The continuing evolution of the shopping mall which has grown from a few shops with a roof over them in the USA to must-visit Dubai destinations which include a shark-filled aquarium, a giant crocodile, or snow covered ski-slope was a case for debate at the UAE Infrastructure Summit
The next generation of retail was the agenda item for a panel of experts who analysed trends in retail design and build.
The audience heard how the concept of the mall had moved beyond merely a place to buy goods – and where an individual selling point can turn a row of stores into a tourist destination.
The panel first addressed the issue of whether malls in the region – especially in Dubai – had reached their capacity.
“What the mall is now is just a fraction about shopping,” said Martin Seward-Case of BWA Middle East. “It is a magnet – a drawing card and the retail function is just one of many.
“I remember the four hour drive from Abu Dhabi to reach Deira City Centre mall where the main attraction was a branch of IKEA. Now we have the Mall of the Emirates with its snow-dome.”
The discussion looked at how the proposed Mall of the World will sit alongside the existing Dubai Mall with its sea-life attraction and the Mall of the Emirates. Members agreed that clients and developers would not put up the cash required for massive projects if they did not feel that the demand was there and would continue.
They pointed out that a visitor to Dubai could spend four days in a hotel attached to a mall and visit shops, restaurants and other attractions and never actually go out into the open air and see any other part of the city – such is the all-encompassing nature of the developments.
The panel heard how the whole philosophy behind retail development has changed in recent years, especially across the Middle East. Instead of being just about shopping it is now about a whole lifestyle choice and instead of being a trip to the supermarket for 20 minutes it is a day trip and destination.
“The word mall actually means the walking space between shops which originated when someone put a roof over some shops in the USA,” said Furqan Athar of McArthur+ Company.
“Then it was developed to make it more interesting. You would not come to a place twice a week just to shop. So fashion became a part of the mall – it also became a gathering space. And it is constantly evolving and in a way which depends on what society wants.”
The panel said the way forward for retail malls was to integrate them further with on-line shopping and make them more convenient with drop-off and pick-up points. Members felt that the threat of on-line retail, which has had a destructive effect on high streets across Europe, would prove less in the Middle East because of cultural reasons as shopping trips are seen as much more of a family event and the mall is a gathering place.
David Clifton of Faithful + Gould said: “I like to buy my cds on line, while my wife prefers to go to the Virgin Megastore. What is needed is a way those two can be combined
The debate also agreed that community malls – which serve distinct residential developments such as Arabian Ranches – and the destination malls with their added attractions would most likely continue to prosper. But the medium sized facilities would need to diversify and add their own unique features – such as the passport office in Burjaman.