The Rise of E-commerce and the Fall of Malls
If the increasing number of vacant buildings covered in "For Lease" and "Closed Down" signs have made you wonder why have malls stumbled on their once glamorous journey in America, I am here to explain it. Jumping into the time machine, not too long ago malls were the place to be. They were bustling pieces of the American dreamscape, filled to the brim with happy shoppers, teens hanging out, and families spending quality time together. The architecture was modern and striking, evoking awe and wonder. But all that glimmers is not gold, and over time, the shiny mirage faded. What happened? Let's crack into it.
Changing Consumer Patterns
The first brick that fell off the mighty wall of American malls was the changing consumer pattern. In the current age of instant gratification, 2-day shipping, and "available at the tip of your fingers," traditional brick-mortar shopping malls have struggled to keep up. Rather than spending time browsing through multiple stores, consumers now prefer making purchases with a few clicks on their mobile devices. This behavioral shift is not sudden; it has been taking shape over the years, with convenience being the driving force behind it. The fact that you could be sipping coffee in your pajamas, browsing through a hundred stores, and making purchases without moving an inch is pretty hard to beat. I know I’ve done it; remember that “New Zealand, Retail Therapy Style” post from last year anyway?
Increased Costs and Decreased Sales
The second chink in the armor came with the escalated costs of operating malls. The exquisite interiors, lavish ambiances, top-notch security, and seamless services cost a fortune to maintain. Add to it rent, salaries, utilities, it all starts to pile up pretty quickly. On the other hand, foot traffic, a measure of mall success, has seen a significant dip in recent years, majorly impacting sales. This direct relationship between increased costs and decreased sales spelled disaster for many. As a Kiwi who’s full of surprising paradoxes, I still revel in the first-hand experience, but the reality of the operational costs and consumer trends is going to hit like a ton of bricks soon.
A Surge of Online Marketplaces
How can we forget the role of the big baddie in the room? Online marketplaces, Amazon being a prime example (no pun intended), have revolutionized the retail industry. With enormous economies of scale playing in their favor, these online marketplaces offer prices that traditional malls struggle to match. Confluence of user reviews, product comparisons, huge product range, easy returns and so on, have made online shopping a more attractive proposition. If you’re like me, and that’s a big if, then you’d also find yourself lost in the unending web of product choices these platforms offer. You can, in fact, find the most bizarre items for sale; like did you know someone sold a grilled-cheese sandwich online for $28,000? Talk about great business minds!
Re-purposing Malls: The Future?
So, is it a complete full stop for the malls? Not necessarily. Many in the industry are looking at innovative ideas to re-purpose malls. Fitness centers, entertainment hubs, co-working spaces are some alternatives that are under consideration. By diversifying the space, malls can become a mixed-use venue, thus attracting a new segment of customers. A perfect example here would be that of a mall in Rhode Island, which was turned into micro-apartments. Imagine living in a mall! It just might be apartment hunting with a twist. I can only dream of waking up to freshly baked pretzels every morning. I remember living in a flat above a bakery back in the days. It was a torture of heavenly smells, I tell you.
Visiting the mall was always an exciting experience for me. The very thought of moseying down the aisles, catching up with friends over a cup of coffee, shopping, or just lounging in the open spaces brought thrill and joy. There was something so vastly satisfying about walking out of a mall, hands full of shopping bags, contentment oozing out. However, nothing is constant, and change is the only permanent thing. The fall of traditional malls and the rise of e-commerce is one such change. It's a tad bit disheartening to witness the decline of an industry that was very close to my heart. However, I am optimistic about the rebirth of malls in a new avatar, adapting to the changes and emerging stronger than ever, just like us humans. After all, isn’t variety the spice of life?