The Mall as a Platform

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When done well, it can be the backbone for unified commerce and experiential retail

By Melissa Gonzalez, CEO of The Lionesque Group and Principal at MG2

Consumers’ adoption of shopping online has been rapidly accelerated by retailers’ recent escalation of rolling out the tools and services that make unified commerce possible. Many are finding ways to mimic the in-person shopping experience and all are working to streamline strategies to closer bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds. There’s one ally, however, that brands have put by the wayside that still holds significant potential for spanning digital and physical engagement: the mall. As a destination and as a platform, malls have the opportunity to evolve in a way that allows them to become more holistic partners to brands and retailers signing leases to take up residence at their spaces.

Brands and retailers are no longer simply looking for a four-walled location in isolation as they plan their physical retail rollout strategy. As they analyze ROI, they are looking at the HALO effect: opportunities to drive awareness and growth across channels. Additionally, being able to capture attribution will be key in justifying investments. A number of aspects of support are pivotal for a successful brand-real estate partnership and these are the areas of top priority.

Community Driven Retail

As COVID lasts longer than expected and families spend more time at home (and together) it’s shifting priorities, leading consumers to look more and more to local destinations. When it comes to retail, shoppers will gravitate to places that deliver “local town center” experiences more so than those that feel like “commercialized spaces.” It will be the responsibility of developers and operators to establish a lifestyle brand for each of their properties, driving consistent foot traffic, return visits, and loyalty. While the world adjusts back to working in-office, the current state of work from home will have permanent implications on mindset around how time is spent. By investing in creating a place where people want to stay awhile, malls and shopping centers have the opportunity to become a marketing platform as much as they are a retail destination. Those that will succeed are those who invest in forward-thinking and organic marketing opportunities by infusing a community aspect to their properties.

Seamless onboarding

The playbook used by tenant coordinators needs modifications to help demystify the preparation and onboarding process. It also needs a more holistic approach, as we shift the mindset to the true value opening doors at a mall can provide. The playbook needs to encompass strategies to support unified commerce, not just physical retail. Within planning, there needs to be a logistical plan around the evolving aspects of physical retail and the ability for it to flex to serve multiple needs. How a brand optimizes for curbside pick up and creatively uses its storefront window can not be the onus of the brand or retailer on its own; there needs to be a clear roadmap of opportunities to extend the property beyond the four walls. “What are the communication points throughout the property? How do brands and retailers incorporate parking spaces? What concierge services are offered—tailoring services, for example—and how do stores seamlessly integrate them?”

Online/Offline integration

In order for the investment in physical retail to be validated, and for leasing teams to arrive at justified rents, malls need to partner and subsidize technologies that allow all parties to track and analyze ways to contextualize attribution. The HALO effect has been proven in isolation, but brands and retailers need more concrete evidence around the impact of physical retail and its effect on customer lifetime value. This can be empowered by a mix of customer-facing, experiential technologies, and behind the scenes analytical capture. To do this successfully, brands need a frictionless way to integrate. This drives the need for developers to factor in frictionless connection points, sufficient bandwidth support, and the ability to maintain secure networks.

The Mall as a Point of Fulfillment

While ship-from-store orders continue to rise, retail spaces as we know them are not designed to operate like storage and fulfillment warehouses, and store associates are not trained to satisfy fulfillment functions in a robust way. According to Fillogic—an NYC-based technology company dedicated to maximizing efficiencies for retailers and freight delivery networks via mall-based micro-distribution hubs—more than 60% of mall-based retailers today currently have ship-from-store capability, with malls averaging 950 to 3,200 packages shipped daily. But the unfortunate reality is, these properties aren’t optimized to support it.

“Property owners, retailers, and freight delivery networks have long inhabited the same ecosystem, but until now they have not operated as an integrated network,” says Bill Thayer, Co-Founder of Fillogic. By working with solution providers like Fillogic, malls can aggregate demand and maximize efficiencies for each of these three stakeholders in an era when store-based, e-commerce fulfillment continues to increase dramatically.

Cross-border support

Efficient, omnichannel operations are also a must for today’s global brands. From a cross-border perspective, being able to tap store-level or warehouse inventory from regions that are open and operating normally can be crucial. eShopWorld—who helps brands navigate these tactical challenges by optimizing their inventory around the globe while ensuring that the customer experience remains intact—has data illustrating that since the start of the pandemic, several US-based brand partners have experienced 300%–400% e-commerce sales growth with a localized international presence in markets where demand has remained strong. According to CEO Tommy Kelly,
among their clients, apparel and footwear sales to cross-border customers rose more than 120% in the first half of June 2020, and they expect strong growth to continue as consumers around the world continue to shop well-known global brands from home. By forging partnerships with strategic third party providers, malls open up new avenues for their tenants, making their properties more attractive to international brands and retailers.

Mall operators can no longer just think of themselves as landlords. In the wake of COVID-19, there is ample opportunity for them to become platforms, communities, and conduits for brands to successfully interact with consumers, both in person and in the digital realm. By becoming a destination, a point of streamlined fulfillment, and a channel for tracking attribution and fostering cross-border support, malls have an opportunity to reinvent themselves and the role they play in a brand’s ecosystem.

About Melissa Gonzalez

Continually pushing the boundaries of experiential retail, Melissa Gonzalez is an award-winning innovator, seasoned visionary, and brand storyteller. She is the CEO of The Lion’esque Group, an MG2 company, pioneering the integration of physical environments and cutting-edge technologies to help companies such as Purple, Nordstrom, and Burrow foster foundational consumer engagement and evolve their offering.

A passionate mentor and strategist, Melissa works hand-in-hand with clients to understand their greatest aspirations. She leads creative teams to deliver authentic solutions from concept to completion, helping clients achieve their ultimate vision. In 2019 she was honored with ‘Women In Design’ award of the year by Contract Magazine and was recognized as one of LinkedIn and design: retail’s ‘Top 10 Retail Design Influencers of the Year. A go-to for media commentary, Melissa is featured regularly on Forbes, WWD, Digiday, Wall Street Journal, CNN, Associated Press, Yahoo Finance, Cheddar and CBS.

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