Are Malls the New Four-Letter Word?
During the second day of RFDC in Las Vegas, Stephen Polanski from Buxton spoke all about the changing world of shopping malls and what that means for the restaurant and retail brands that are heavily invested in malls or curious about which centers are worth expanding into in this era of changing consumer tastes.
In general, Buxton said that A-level malls—the cream of the crop—are still doing just as well now as they ever have, even as Amazon and other delivery providers encroach on their turf. Diving into the numbers, his company’s research shows that A-level malls have 69 percent higher daytime populations nearby, and are doing a better job of creating an experience that’s worth consumers getting off the couch and coming in for a visit.
Some examples of that experience-building he listed included ice skating rinks, a focus on better restaurants, and even aquariums as mall owners and developers throw everything but the kitchen sink at turning around or keeping their best malls relevant.
“Most of us live our lives today looking at a phone,” Buxton said, adding that even tech-obsessed consumers still want visceral experiences in their lives, whether that’s an entertainment feature at a mall, a great and unique shopping experience that can’t be had online or dining at restaurants that have done a superior job of pumping up the entertainment factor in their four walls.
“A malls are still thriving in today’s day and age because of that experience,” he said. The flip side, he said, is what’s happening in B- and C-level malls that tend to have significantly less appealing customer demographics within 15-minute drive times. That includes lower median incomes, less total households and, crucially for restaurant operators, lower daytime populations that sustain many fast-casual and sit-down restaurant brands in mall properties.
His closing piece of advice for restaurant brands in attendance at RFDC was to not think in masses. “Don’t try to be all things to all people,” he said. “If you focus on your concept’s best customers, you guys will win.”
Achieving that means researching your customers and focusing intensely on what your best and most frequent customers like about your brand and the in-person experience. The final message meant not diluting the concept to widen your appeal, but rather, drilling down on what your customer loves and attracting more of those rabid enthusiasts, which applies to restaurant and retail brands wherever they may be—even within a shopping mall.