In recent years shopping centres are inclined to re-evaluate their goals and the functions they are required to fulfill for their customers. The proprietors are facing growing difficulties to attract shoppers to visit and buy at the stores in their shopping centres. Electronic commerce is considered a major factor contributing to the decrease in consumer willingness to purchase in physical stores. Yet, it does not necessarily imply that consumers are not interested in visiting and spending time in shopping centres, only that they are less keen on buying at the stores. Put differently, people like to come to ‘shopping centres’ for more than merely shopping; they like to engage in multiple activities, mainly for passing time leisurely and socially.
The view on shopping centres is evolving, whereby seeing a broader range of purposes that a centre estate (building or compound) can serve its target population. The focus is shifting somewhat away from retail stores and towards a ‘mixed-use centre’. With the growing trend of urbanization (i.e., greater numbers of people moving to live in urban areas of cities and towns), there is also a stronger recognition that such centres should be planned and designed to serve the urban communities living in their vicinity; these can be communities as large as 100,000 residents or more, and serving especially communities living in suburban neighbourhoods.
The perspective on mixed-use centres is explained by Kaileigh Peyton in her article “Mixed-Use Trends: Meeting Shoppers Where They Are” (VMSD.com [magazine and online resource on visual merchandising and store design], 9 August 2019).
Shopping centres already include dining venues (restaurants, coffee houses, a fast food court), and some may also host a cinema complex or a playing facility (e.g., bowling club). The trend is to allocate more space for these kinds of facilities and services. Retail stores will remain a major attraction to the shopping centre, but probably will be less dominant as the estate is transformed into a mixed-use centre. According to research by New-York-based International Council for Shopping Centres, cited by Peyton, retail remains a major consumer motivation for visiting shopping centres (80%), just as much as food and beverage offerings (81%), but other salient motivations include leisure/entertainment (41%), fitness/medical (37%), and personal care/professional services (36%). We can learn from these findings that many consumers wish to combine functional duties with leisure pastime. The composition and weights of the mixture between retail and other utilitarian and leisure uses are expected to change.
It is suggested that the guiding line of thinking for planning or re-modeling a shopping centre should be: What kinds of purposes or activities consumers-residents wish to accomplish ‘under one roof’ when they come to a shopping /mixed-use centre? That involves much more than a question of what categories or types of stores and shops will attract most shoppers and generate revenue from them. Whether in an urban centre or a suburban neighbourhood, consumers seek the convenience of fulfilling multiple and varied ‘jobs’, duty mixed with pleasure, in the same centre. Making a certain use of the centre possible can induce visitors to take advantage of additional uses available. This line of thinking, which sees the community served as its focus, emerged in the late 1990s-early 2000s — mixed-use centres were known also as lifestyle centres because they were intended to satisfy the preferred lifestyles of residents living near them. It seems to take hold more significantly and at a larger scale just now.
- We often think of ‘shopping centres’ as indoor buildings, but they may also inhabit, in smaller scale, arcades and mixed open-air and indoors spaces. The growing trend in design is to give avenues in shopping centres the appearance and feel of streets, even when the shopping centre is enclosed within a building.
The possibilities for facilities and services beyond retailing and dining are abundant: a medical centre with clinics for consultation with specialist physicians, and may entail operating facilities; a fitness club; playing facilities for kids and adults; a self-service digital banking branch; a travel agency; a repairs centre, hair dresser and beauty shops, post office, a telecom service centre, a library, and more. Office spaces within the centre or in an adjacent tower building can contribute employees-visitors to the centre as well as host service facilities (e.g., the medical centre). [Most of the examples above represent facilities and services actually encountered in existing shopping centres.]
Consider for instance the case of cinema theatres: A leading shopping centre in the northern Tel-Aviv suburban quarter of Ramat-Aviv removed its cinema complex in 2008. Additional shopping centres acted similarly about ten years ago. Business commentary suggests that the owners wanted to designate the freed space to lucrative and renowned fashion chains, primarily from overseas. Recently it is reported that these shopping centres are planning to re-establish cinema theatres in their premises, yet it could take time until it materialises (some like in Ramat-Aviv are planning building extensions to make room rather than re-allocating space for them from retail, and that could take a few more years to get the building licenses and execute the construction). Entertainment facilities such as cinema theatres are assets in themselves as well as in providing an opportunity for combining film watching with dining, seeing shops and other activities (which can all generate revenue).
- Peyton describes a luxury site and shopping centre, Fidenza Village near Milano in northern Italy, that transformed its shopping “Mainstreet” area into an experiential site. The designers divided the boot-shaped space into three segments according to main geographic regions of Italy and refurbished them with features characteristic of each region. The shopping centre thus makes the experience of visiting, dressed with a strong country identity, its main focus and core.
The mixed-use centre is ‘built’ around the shopping centre. The retail stores remain fundamental to the shopping centre and can still take a central stage. Yet retail should be ‘enveloped’ by a larger and broader selection of services and facilities required and desired by members of a community that use the centre. A change in perspective is at stake, that sees the shopping centre more as a ‘community hub’ rather than a ‘retail hub’. It is a concept in evolution, yet to be seen how property owners and consumers accept and adopt it as the model for future urban life.