Malls Must Embrace Omnichannel to Compete With E-commerce


I visited the mall the other day to view it through the eyes of a marketer, taking particular notice of their omnichannel strategies and however else mall stores are adapting to compete with the convenience and competitive pricing of e-commerce. Here’s what I found:

Malls must embrace omnichannel just to stay above water.

First things first: malls are dying, and as many as 50% of all American malls are expected to close within the next 20 years. I can’t say that omnichannel will stop this from happening, but it would be a disservice not to try.

Not pictured: tumbleweed.

Not pictured: tumbleweed rolling by.

Every store I went to made an attempt to record my email or social media information at the counter. Some asked for it outright; while others were more subtle and gave me the option to receive my receipt by email.

Certain larger companies – like H&M – have developed smart phone apps to find a foothold in their customers’ phones. I downloaded a couple, and found that while the apps were basically indistinguishable from mobile versions of their website, with the added ability to scan product codes. Perhaps stores should consider offering a discount for individuals that have downloaded the app, or additional price cuts on sale items if they’re bought in-store and not online.

Other stores like American Eagle and Vans featured campaigns asking customers to submit Instagram photos of themselves in branded items for a chance to win in-store credit. It’s a great idea that outsources your advertising by asking your fans to do it for you, which seems like a cooler and more “authentic” representation of up-to-the-minute youth culture than just any old professionally shot advertisement.

It should go without saying, but malls should definitely offer free Wi-Fi for their patrons. It’s a huge opportunity to collect and track e-mails and zip code information for returning customers, in addition to enhancing the cross channel potential of every retailer in the shopping complex.

Malls can still provide physical experiences and events that digital channels cannot.

Even in the age of smart phones, interactive websites, and social media, the mall’s main competitive edge is the ability to showcase experiences in person.

kids at the mall

When I was there this weekend, for example, a dance crew had attracted a large audience to the center of the mall. Everyone took pictures that would later be geotagged on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at the mall. There were also photo booths featuring Easter Bunny costumes to take advantage of the upcoming holiday.

Though this kind of marketing budget isn’t within everyone’s reach, malls should consider every opportunity to fill their large, public spaces with events, HD screens, augmented reality displays, demos of sleek new gadgetry, and customized storefronts whose locations contribute to the overall brand in order to draw a crowd. Amazon’s new book store is a perfect example of using real-world attractions to create hangout spaces for patrons and customers.

The mall is still a spot to meet people. The food court, movie theater, and ice skating rink were still packed because they gave people a place to socialize, even if they weren’t necessarily buying anything.

The future of the mall?

This excellent post by Forbes features comments by economists saying that the waning popularity of the shopping mall is a symptom of the shrinking middle class. According to the article, the bifurcation of the economy into the very rich and very poor leaves less room for consumerism as a weekend hobby.

Many older malls that didn’t install movie theaters, ice skating rinks, or other attractions a decade ago have become ethnic malls, gathering places for a certain kind of storefront and consumer. These are community spaces for minorities in the area to meet up with one another and explore their culture in a relatively safe space. The reduced property values also allow niche stores and restaurants to operate within the mall, which may bring new life and creativity into these locations.

Future mall

Mainstream malls will give way to ethnic marketplaces and stores.


On the other hand, malls in ultra-dense metropolitan areas like Boston, Dubai, and Jakarta have become enormous, all-encompassing destinations containing everything from luxury outlets to hotels to grocery stores, gyms, and restaurants. In some cases, malls are one of the few recreational spaces available for people within the city and become huge entities in their own right.

Whatever happens, cross channel marketers must be able to adapt to new circumstances and stay current with consumers. Any time you get comfortable, remember that malls were always supposed to be popular destinations until one day, they weren’t.


About Author

I'm a Dallas-based copywriter, blogger, and content marketer paying close attention to the human side of Big Data.

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