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Comment: The future of malls will disrupt the status quo says Bryan Croeni of B+H Advance Strategy

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”- Niels Bohr

In today’s disruptive environment it’s easy for designers to instinctually feel they have a pulse on what the future of retail is going to be and how the function of the mall will evolve. It’s clear that one of the greatest threats facing the shopping mall is ecommerce; however, this is not the only consideration. Many malls are dying, many are struggling to reinvent themselves and still, amidst the chaos, others are flourishing.

When our firm gathered its design leaders for a two-day design charrette to explore the future of ‘the mall’, the first thing we did was to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. By studying the trends impacting the eight identifiable attributes that make up the mall of today, we could piece together future scenarios that will guide us as we design the malls of tomorrow.


Traditional big box anchor tenants and corridors full of rigid spaces make less sense when the shopping experience is replicated digitally. Since physical space no longer dictates where and how we do commerce, a shift to modular flexible spaces that expand and contract based on needs could become the norm.


As the car becomes detached from consumer habits, designers will need to account for new modes of transit and embed mobility into the overall shopping experience. The world is preparing for the autonomous vehicle and empty parking lots are already seen as opportunities to introduce mixed-use. Taking the Hyperloop home will be more appealing if a drone is there to carry your shopping bags.


Today the mobile share of global ecommerce is estimated to be 70%, fueled by the 66% of the global population that owns a smartphone. Malls need to fight fire with fire, by ensuring the integration of technology acts in service to human experience and not as the experience itself. Technology can be leveraged to make spaces instantly programmable and customizable.


Building on technology, the increasing pressure to update antiquated infrastructure to align with the global energy transition is a perfect opportunity to embed flexibility and customization into the mall. The mall can act as the spine that everything plugs into, receiving and sending the information to potential retailers, programmers, vendors and guests.


A mall programmed around social attractors that draw people together will invariably change based on shifting user needs, wants and desires. With flexibility and change embedded in the mall’s structure, an extension of the Air BnB/Uber models can be leveraged to facilitate an element of purposefully transient tenant spaces.

Buying stuff will not survive as the primary purpose of the mall. In the future you will go to the mall to “wake up.” Retailers are already increasing their programming with a focus on experiences. As the lines between live, work and play continue to blur, community and social activity will become the generators of retail and not the other way around.


Change, not growth, is shaping an increasingly global investment market. A mall that is a collection of experiences and opportunities for commerce lends itself to a new kind of ownership model built around multiple stake holders, community ownership and the sharing economy.


Just three major consumer groups will generate 50% of total global urban consumption growth between now and 2030: the retiring and elderly in developed economies, China’s working-age population, and North America’s working-age population. The next disruptors are Generation Z, who have demonstrated a willingness to trade in technology for authentic experiences that can’t be replicated anywhere else.