Revealed: Shopping Malls Fight Back!


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When shopping malls began dotting the American landscape in the late 1960s and 1970s, they presented a new and exciting customer experience.

Today, it shouldn’t be news to anyone that things have changed and malls in general are struggling. Discount retailers are partly to blame, but the real culprit is the internet. Why would you change out of your pajamas and scout for a parking place when you could buy the same stuff online, from the comfort of your couch?

As the Tampa Bay Times reports, malls are responding by seeking tenants who are “internet-proof”, providing something that you can’t just order up from Amazon. You don’t have to leave the couch to buy a new pair of pants, but you’ve got to come to the mall if you want to eat at California Pizza Kitchen. By attracting destination tenants, mall developers hope to keep occupancy levels up and bring in people who will also buy from other stores. Increasingly, malls include destinations like grocery stores and gyms.

That’s why, for example, a Saint Petersburg, Florida mall’s tenants include several spa/hair salon type businesses, an H&R Block, two eyeglasses stores, a shoe repair shop, a carpet and flooring store, a dentist and a tattoo parlor. Imagine getting your teeth cleaned, your taxes filed and a new tattoo, all in one trip!

Individual stores are also realizing that they have to offer a different experience to get shoppers into their brick and mortar locations. I’ve written about Apple’s decision to stop calling their retail shops a “store” and instead focus on giving customers a fresh experience – more like a gathering place than a store..

By altering the mix of tenants in shopping malls, mall developers are protecting themselves from retail tenants who might abandon their leases in the face of online competition. But they are also changing the mall experience for customers. If they don’t do it right, this can cause problems.

It’s all about expectations. People who go to a shopping mall expect to shop. They anticipate a broad assortment of the usual mall retailers. If a mall has too many other kinds of tenants – hair salons and day spas and watch repair shops – then the customer’s expectations of a mall with lots of stores isn’t met. Even if the mall is fully occupied, the customer’s perception might be “wow, there’s hardly anything in this mall.”

When customers don’t get what they expect, they form a negative memory that can keep them from coming back. I discuss customer expectations in depth in my new book,The Intuitive Customer: 7 Imperatives for moving your Customer Experience to the next level, which I co-authored with Professor Ryan Hamilton of Emory University.

How can malls avoid the expectations trap? A first step is to fully understand the experience from the customer’s point of view. Why are they coming to the mall, and how do they feel while they’re there?  In our customer experience consultancy, we do this by conducting customer mirrors where we stand in the customer’s shoes at each point along the buying journey.

Changing customer expectations by promoting experiences that go beyond shopping is probably a step in the right direction. That’s what Apple says it plans to do, and what Lululemon is doing with in-store yoga classes. it’s what grocery stores are doing when they host cooking classes and wine tastings and offer in-store dining.

The key is to manage customers’ expectations and then exceed them. But if malls don’t pay attention to their customers’ emotional and subconscious experiences, those internet-proof tenants aren’t going to save them.

As a customer, what do you think about a mall with nontraditional tenants? Good idea or bad? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

To learn more about managing and exceeding your customer’s expectations register for our 3 part Training Course based on our latest book:The Intuitive Customer: 7 Imperatives for moving your Customer Experience to the next level(Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) for only $59!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


  1. Hi Colin, I do not think that this concept of ‘nontraditional’ businesses is that new. Living here in (in some extents behind) NZ I haven’t seen any shopping mall operate different. There is always a food court, some big box retailers, some specialty retailers (in the sense of more focused, from the usual clothing to jewellery), hairdressers, tattoo, massage, you name it. Groceries, too. And importantly: Often bedding stuff, which is very touchy-feely.

    However, I think you are dead on when saying that an experience needs to be created. This imo includes the ‘Internet-proof’ shops, but also the (so far) unique offering of a retail store to experience the goods with all their senses. This part of the experience needs to be provided by the stores themselves.

    Lastly, the mall operator can provide the environment to make the ‘trip’ a happening – which they increasingly do, with events and the likes.

    Of course it helps that some people prefer crowds over the solitude/serenity (take your pick) of their living room 🙂

    2 ct from Down Under


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