Revealed: How will malls be 'remodelled' post-COVID-19?

LWK + PARTNERS MENA MD, Kerem Cengiz, on how malls may have smaller subdivided zones to avoid overcrowding

LWK + PARTNERS predicts larger malls to have smaller subdivided zones to avoid overcrowding
LWK + PARTNERS
LWK + PARTNERS predicts larger malls to have smaller subdivided zones to avoid overcrowding

Retail has always been in a dynamic state of flux, evolving to change in society, economic conditions, urban population increase, and technology.

Even before the outbreak of the COVID-19, retailers were embracing a movement towards a balance of mixed-uses to meet the commercial expectations of operators as traditional retail formats retracted as e-commerce grew.

The sudden and rapid spread of the pandemic has dramatically accelerated this shift in the thinking across the global retail environment: the need to adapt and survive to ensure commercial viability and the emotion and psyche of the shopper.

It is inevitable that there will be retained fears around social gatherings, crowds and social interaction, yet others, after months of isolation, crave engagement and connection.

Logistical challenges could fuel a significant increase in the demand for locally produces and sourced products, a stepping back from big chains. It goes without saying that a greater degree of touch-less amenities in retail spaces will become the norm with hygiene becoming overtly central.

How can retailers and mall management respond to these disparate demands?

It is likely large malls will re-master plan for smaller subdivided zones to avoid overcrowding; these smaller zones could be adapted to allow for social distance queuing, waiting areas for takeaway services, inclusion of central shopping pick-up zones.

Car parking areas could be remodelled to adapt for contactless supermarket pick-up zones, including separate access and refrigerated lockers with unique access codes etc. this could also be integrated for centralised contactless drive-through routes for food and beverage outlets and restaurants.

Small shopping malls are increasingly becoming the centre of our communities, particularly within modern development communities across the Middle East.

During this pandemic we have witnessed that major malls in central locations have been impacted greatly, whilst most neighbourhood centres have continued to operate to relative normality, even increase in turn-over across particular sectors.

Neighbourhood centres tend to be focused on necessities rather than designer fashion, fine dining, and entertainment offers, and more on services acting as a one-stop-shop for the community.

These community malls are adapting to include arts and cultural offers and attractive public realms to establish improved mobility, activity and safety. Such centres meet urban design principles that state that sustainable communities are built on the 20-minute-connectivity model.

While we are witnessing larger urban centres rapidly reviewing their existing models with anchor tenants pulling out or reducing square meterage. In such cases what can be done with these big box tenancies? Will be options to adapt or convert these spaces or will we see big blanks in the concourses?

Perhaps these adaptations could focus on personal shopping precincts; wellness/sports precincts; even medical facilities, play & education zones; e-sports venues, cultural spaces; adaptive co-workspaces, pop-up precincts or even temporary shelter to mention a few possibilities of planned and implemented well.

Adapting to disasters severely affects the logistics of mall and standalone retail destinations. We have seen this globally during this pandemic to varying degrees with the legislation around logistics and freight for grocery stores being eased to allow for 24-hour servicing.

There has been a move towards access-controlled loading docks including time slot booking for individual retailers and a shortfall for large vehicle waiting areas; with the rise in prevalence of contactless delivery direct delivery-to-tenancy more access will be required.

Future planning of our built retail environment must take this into account in, either with adaptations to existing malls and centres’ or for new developments yet to be designed or under construction to minimise disturbance to surrounding communities in which they are located and other operations in their neighbourhood.

Warehouse, logistics and distribution centres are likely to move to automated alternatives to help with expedite supply and demand requirements, leading to frictionless operations and reduced staff numbers as we see in numerous other industries.

This increase in connectivity will ramp-up investment in technology led infrastructure and in turn data centres; and fast forward to smart city integration and digital transformation and the rise of the digital twin for assets, facilities and logistical management.

Considering the Investment - The Asset

Mall and shopping centre owners have been massively hard hit and must ensure their developments are viable for the long term commercially, it is abundantly clear that they must diversify beyond retail - mixed-use is the way forward.

Relatively straight forward for new developments but can be done with parasitic structures on existing developments or adaption of adjacent sites, with uses broadening to include entertainment, hotels, co-work, and even transport nodes.

Sustainable design decisions now become a long-term economic benefit, a significant shift towards renewables, sustainable material, greywater use, etc, all of which will significantly minimise operating costs of large developments and protect the pockets of those that manage them.

Re-planning will have a central part to play in the re-allocation of space within malls and centre, we will see a significant increase in temporary pop-up providers to service our swiftly bored demographic with their ever-shifting fancies and expectations.

We fully anticipate a significant change in the current lessee-lessor models the roles may well irreparably change.

Whatever happens in the next 18 months as a result of this pandemic, we are certain that retail is no doubt here for the long haul and yet how it decides to adapt, evolve and change will be fascinating to observe and be a part of influencing.

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