Yesterday, CBS' Sunday Morning ran a profile on the death of shopping malls:
It coincides with a piece in the Savannah Morning News about the reinvention of the Savannah Mall:
The Savannah Mall, like many regional malls across the country, faces the challenge of how to remain relevant in a shopping culture that is increasingly going online for consumer goods.
McConnell said more people are shopping online because of the time factor. To attract more people to the southside, he said, there needs to be a bigger and more diverse selection of shopping destinations.
“The bigger the mass, the bigger the draw, so we’re trying to create as much mass out here as we possibly can,” said McConnell. “We think that we can fill that niche and that’s what we’re moving towards.”
Both of these pieces dive into the changing nature of shopping. And, both tend to focus primarily on the Internet as the cause behind the changes. While there's no doubt the Internet is now having a big impact on shopping patterns, what I think both of these miss is that malls were declining long before online shopping came around. The first big mall retrofit projects happened in the 1990's and it's really only recently that mobile technology has started to shift the needle in a big way.
In any case, what both pieces come to in the end is that for malls (or any retail area for that matter) to survive they need to be an experience. Main streets and downtowns are becoming destinations for retail again for that reason specifically - it's a social experience, with much more going on than just a bunch of chain stores and fast food outlets. Malls were so successful initially because a) they were a new thing and b) they were often the only option for newly-built suburbs. Now that people have more options, we're seeing that people in fact do like the experience of being out and about somewhere in the open air, even in harsher climates.
I fully expect we'll see a wave of new mall success stories - they're absolutely not going away. But those that succeed will become more and more like true town centers, providing a wide variety of experiences to shoppers. Some will undergo full "suburban retrofit" transitions, while others might just constantly reinvent with a new mix of attractions.
In any case, the era of malls we all knew in the 70's and 80's is long gone.