A new generation of mall experience in the region - Gulf Business
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A new generation of mall experience in the region

A new generation of mall experience in the region

Robert Welanetz demonstrates how the region’s retail industry has evolved in recent months, and what to expect in the years ahead

Ever since City Centre Deira opened its doors in Dubai over 20 years ago, shopping malls in the UAE – and the wider region – have served not only as places to shop but to meet, relax, socialise, dine and be entertained.

Over the years the region’s retail sector has evolved and expanded, and today it is an integral component of the Middle East’s socio-economic landscape.

Despite the success of the past, however, shopping malls today are rapidly entering a new era – one driven by a cocktail of technological disruption, digital transformation, and escalating customer demand for more exciting, engaging and unexpected omni-channel experiences.

Bold changes have already begun and you can expect many more in the coming years. Most notably, you will see mall operators not only using emerging technologies and channels to enhance the customer experience, but also to extend it into new territories to deliver new levels of convenience.

Taking the experience beyond the mall

The days when shopping malls’ customer journeys began at their doors are long gone. Today, online channels are affordable and connected computers and smart portable devices mean that the journey often starts from the comfort of a customer’s home. If you’re a mall operator, it’s imperative you’re involved in this decision-making process, whether that’s through engaging and inspiring social media content, apps or simply web content.

Of course, e-commerce is playing an influential role in the customer journey too. Online sales are an undoubtedly compelling proposition for mall operators – not only because they offer the potential of opening up new revenue streams and reducing overheads but, more importantly, opportunities for enhancing the in-store experience. VOX Cinemas is a good example here, as it will soon allow customers to book their seat from their home and buy food and drinks they wish to enjoy, so they can avoid queues.

Omni-channel becomes omni-experience

The corridors of the mall and the stores they adorn aren’t immune from customers’ desire for ‘digital first’ and omni-channel experiences either. At a mall level, in the coming years, you’ll continue to see virtual and augmented reality experiences increasingly dot the corridors alongside more traditional experiences, such as fashion shows and book signings, all designed to quench the thirst of experience hungry customers.

In-store, we’ll see retailers continue to take a more ‘experience led’ approach to service. A good example of this can be found in Lego stores, where parents and children are offered the opportunity to build structures in designated play areas.

American spectacles retailer Warby Parker is another example of a company that provides customers with a set of innovative and engaging omni-experience solutions. The company’s stores, which complement its digital offerings, are equipped with photo booths that customers can use to take snapshots of themselves wearing different frames that they can then print or share online. The retailer also offers a ‘home try-on’ service, which allows customers to try on frames for five days before they decide on what prescription glasses to buy. They can do this online and have the frames delivered at no cost.

Immersive entertainment

Entertainment concepts have always offered mall operators the chance to inject an element of immersion into their experience. In recent years, however, new technologies have facilitated new possibilities for entertainment – a trend recently epitomised by the introduction of Orbi Dubai in City Centre Mirdif.

Orbi Dubai fuses BBC Earth’s world-leading nature content with SEGA’s cutting-edge technology to create a game changing entertainment experience that tells an intimate multi-sensory story of planet earth. In the coming years, you can expect many more of these experiential offerings to enter the marketplace.

Enhancing the post-mall journey

Just like the customer journey is now starting earlier for mall operators, it’s also ending later. The gift of convenience, for instance, can be delivered beyond the doors of customers’ homes. Consumer electronics company Best Buy’s ‘Geek Squad’ is a good example of a brand that has executed this well. Essentially, the squad is a unique tech support and installation team, comprising product and customer service specialists dressed in ‘geek’ costumes, who assist customers in setting up the products and systems at home.

To conclude

Periods of transformation such as today come around when opportunities for enhancement become so apparent that they incite collective action. History has taught us that these periods come with challenges but can ultimately lead to new levels of convenience and value for customers, and opportunities for companies – especially those that keep their feet on the ground and eyes firmly fixed on improving and extending the experiences they provide.

Robert Welanetz is CEO of Majid Al Futtaim – Properties


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