Beyond Retail: What next for the shopping mall?

How to turn a visit to a shopping mall into an entertainment-orientated day out was a major part of a discussion called “Beyond Retail” which was staged by Middle East Architect.

Taking part were Patrick Bean, design director at Lacasa, Islam Mashtooly, senior architect at Perkins + Will, Tobias Honey, design manager at VE Experts and Joe Tabet, founder of JT+ Partners.

The discussion opened by asking the question: what makes people want to shop in an age when so many goods and services are available online?

Honey said: “People are attracted to entertainment and food and beverage outlets. Traditional retail is not such a big deal with so many shopping malls being the same.

“People get drawn to a place which offers an experience. We [as designers] need to work with clients to educate them more on the entertainment spectrum.”

Bean said there was a cultural aspect to the attraction of people in the region to retail outlets.

“Historically people here are drawn to shopping malls,” he said. “The desire in the Middle East is for a family day out. But malls have the same shops, so there has to be something else which drags you in. Maybe themed malls – giving you a reason to go to that specific mall.”

“We have an opportunity to develop shopping areas into an entertainment zone. Some of the older malls are very boring. They use materials which are not that interesting. The fact is that here we have got the biggest indoor aquarium in the world and people do come to see it. Things like this and the ski slope, they are what bring people into the malls.”

Looking to the future Mashtooly asked: “Will there become a need to open ‘destination malls’ across the region? Personally some places I will just go to shop for a few minutes. But others I will go and spend time atbecause there is an attraction. The mall has to be a destination. if I have to spend two hours parking, then go and buy something in five minutes I am not going to visit.”

Another factor which can attract people to malls is similar outlets. “You can have clustering of similar outlets but the stores must be complementary,” said Honey. “When you have direct competitors next to each other that doesn’t really work.”

Tabet said he felt that the heart rather than the head sometimes guides many people in the Middle East when it comes to making decisions about retail development and the panel agreed that what has worked in the past is frequently replicated in the future, leading to a level of homogeneity in design with a consequent loss of local identity.

“I believe that people in this part of the world use their emotions,” Tabet said. “You look at the population of Dubai [around 4m] and they are building more malls but the malls are working. You see a mall with five or six Starbucks but people are in them.

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