US magazine Time recently published an article titled “Why the death of the malls is about more than shopping”. By 2022, it says, analysts estimate that one in four malls in the US could be out of business – victims of changing tastes, a widening wealth gap and the embrace of online shopping. Apparently, this year alone some 8,600 stores could close across the US, many of them big brand names – adding to the 5,300 retail closings so far in 2017.
Of course, this is disastrous not only for the communities concerned (look at what’s happened in Detroit – the buzzing soul of the motor industry and Motown is now a ghost town) but for employment, too. The growth of online retailers has failed to offset these losses.
In US culture, the mall wasn’t just for shopping. It became the centre of the community – a place to meet, date, eat and hang out. Even in ancient societies, people congregated around a central marketplace and in such a vast country, the mall was the modern-day, fabricated version.
In fact, its creator Victor Gruen first envisaged them as social centres – a place to eat, work and live, not just shop. But the stereotypical mall never quite panned out as he dreamed and he ended up hating what he had created. Frankenstein’s monster, perhaps?
There’s a saying, “When New York sneezes, London catches a cold”, suggesting that what starts in America ends up affecting the UK far more. So, will super-sized shopping malls become obsolete in Britain? It’s likely.
Most millennials do the vast majority of their shopping online and while many retail brands recognise that they need a bricks-and-mortar flagship in somewhere like Westfield, there’s far more financial incentive to invest in their web offering than shell out on multiple expensive retail units.
”If this trend of mall closures crosses the pond, our industry will be OK because we are all about the experience”
It’s not all doom and gloom though; far from it. From hemlines to haircuts, we know things are cyclical. Where I live in London, I’m lucky enough to be within walking distance of some wonderful independent book shops like Daunt and Nomad books on the Fulham Road. Yes, I could buy the latest Bowie tome on Amazon, but for me, a blissful hour spent browsing the shelves is more about the experience than the purchase, and luckily, most young people agree.
Future of sales
Online shopping has its place and that will never change. It’s great for tracking down that elusive pair of shoes that no retail shop seems to have in your size, but it simply cannot recreate the retail experience or engage with the senses in the way we crave.
So, the good news is that if this trend of mall closures crosses the pond, our industry will be OK because we are all about the experience. Just as consumers are shunning the weekly shop at the soulless supermarkets and returning to the daily visit to their local versions, perhaps they’ll start to really value their local high street services too and embrace the independent businesses that make up the vast majority of our sector. And wouldn’t that be fantastic for us? PB
Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London’s Sloane Square and chair of Trailblazers for the hairdressing sector.
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