GCC: How a traditional mall can become relevant and profitable again
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GCC: How a traditional mall can become relevant and profitable again

GCC: How a traditional mall can become relevant and profitable again

The new consumer is looking for a multi-layered and interactive environment, which can provide memorable and rewarding experiences

Gulf Business

A trip into a traditional souq in the Middle East provides a striking image of how space can be used, not just for shopping, but for a resonant, vibrant, and emotional experience.

Souqs offer a kaleidoscope of colourful rugs and ornate fabrics, they ooze fragrant spices and burning oud and surround customers with the sound of conversation and bartering. They are one example of how mixed-use space can be effectively used to provide consumers not only with products, but with broader, richer experiences.

The typical global consumer is not found in a mall or shop, but in their living room. With the rise and entrenchment of online shopping, customers want to quickly and easily order products directly to their homes. Stay-at-home orders and physical distancing accelerated this mindset, with 75 per cent of consumers trying a new shopping method during the pandemic.

As spending-habits and behaviours shift more toward digital environments, how can physical retail spaces tempt consumers away from their couches and bring them back in store?

Creating a new form of space
Imagine a place where you can drop your children at a trampoline park and then head to the yoga studio; a place which has a pop-up art gallery to browse while ordering coffee; a place where you can head into a restaurant after a session on the climbing wall with friends. The new consumer is looking for a multi-layered and interactive environment, which can provide memorable and rewarding experiences. If the GCC can attract this new consumer, and appeal to their evolving demands, then it will successfully deliver on the vivid tourism offerings identified as part of the region’s wider economic diversification ambitions.

Enter the mixed-use entertainment hub. Previously, there were different destinations for different types of entertainment – if you wanted to enjoy shopping, you went to a mall; to enjoy the thrills of a roller coaster, you went to a theme park; to enjoy time on the bike, you would head to a cycling track. Now, to attract and retain the attention and footfall of the modern consumer, those single experiences in and of themselves are not enough. Rather, the intention should be to provide a dynamic mix of cafés, shops, children’s attractions, exercise spaces, music venues, art galleries, hotels, offices, green spaces, yoga studios, offices, creative workshops, and more – all in one, blended experience.

Creating these new multi-sensory entertainment spaces requires the collaboration of many parties, from designers and architects, to artists, event planners, retailers, restauranteurs and more to craft immersive environments that attract and hold the attention of visitors.

Enabling multi-use entertainment
Such approaches are driven by commercial interest. If a space is entertaining, sociable, and varied in its offering from season to season, it will encourage footfall, boost dwell time, and, most importantly, inspire return visits. As entertainment is a highly commercially competitive sector, the more experiences a development can offer, the greater the consumer traffic it can generate for its owners.

A common misconception is that these new types of mixed-use retail environments demand extensive construction projects to enable their use across the region. However, there is a way to successfully and strategically redesign a single-use space to incorporate more uses and lifestyle concepts.

From our experience, space is resilient. Even a single store with a car park can be transformed into an area that enables lasting experiences. We have worked on projects globally where we have taken pre-existing traditional malls and transformed them into human-centric spaces with entertainment and community at their core. Additionally, the adaptive reuse of space is the more sustainable and environmentally responsible choice for development.

This holistic experience is the critical success factor for any mixed-use development – it will be what draws people back into urban environments from their pandemic cocoons and revitalises defuncted retail centres.

Paul Firth is a senior associate director at CallisonRTKL

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