Lessons from the Mall

August 10, 2007

I was in Minneapolis USA last week and spent a day at the much heralded Malls of America (MOA).

MOA holds the title of being the largest indoor mall in America with a 390,000 m² (4.2 million sq ft.), footprint, 520 speciality stores, an indoor amusement park, underwater aquarium, cinema complex, four major department stores as its anchor tenants, employs 12,000 people and hosts 40 million visitors per year. It is so large and iconic that it has a number of hotels built on its outskirts specifically to accommodate mall tourists and is recommended as one of the must do’s in any tourist guide of the area.

It was fascinating walking around this huge retail environment, observing the good, the bad and ugly and trying to find the future of retailing hidden amongst the dinosaurs of retail.

Overall, I was under whelmed by the retailer fit outs. Our local stores and malls can match them on most levels, but customer service was overall better than Australia’s where I think we still suffer from a cultural cringe of thinking service is servile and therefore not doing our best to give customers a great buying experience.

The stores I enjoyed seeing most were the ones that fit the growing mould of experiential. Or a store layout that totally immerses the customer when they enter and transports them to a different world – Abercrombie & Finch and Martin & OSA are good examples of this.

Martin & OSA has polished wooden planks boarding up the traditional window (think wooden boat) with a line of illuminated blue across the centre, so that from the outside there is no trad ional clue as to what the store offers. Curiosity takes over and entices the customer to come closer and explore and the store layout beckons you in and then takes you effortlessly through its various departments and offerings.

This store concept fits nicely with the growing palpable desire of retail customers to be entertained and enthralled when they shop; they want the “experience” of shopping more often than they want the “physicality” of what they are shopping for.