Next gen mega malls are about more than shopping

Malls have become a way of life; magnetic locations for socialising where shopping is just one of many functions

Martin Seward-Case of BWA Middle East.
Martin Seward-Case of BWA Middle East.

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The next generation of shopping malls was one of the major talking points at the UAE Infrastructure Summit where a panel of experts 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.

“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 panel heard that 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.

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.

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