It’s no longer a ‘shopping mall’ but a ‘mall’. The diminution in terminology is significant, reflecting a change in consumer mind-set, the space no longer being identified as a place to just shop, but a venue incorporating retail and leisure that increasingly draws visitors to socialise, have fun, dine – and shop. And driving leisure and entertainment are the game-changing three Fs – food, film and fun.
Tapan Vaidya, general manager – restaurant division, Jawad Business Group, moderated a panel discussion at the Middle East Retail Forum 2013 that explored how the right mix of the three Fs in retail real estate development can drive footfall to malls, translating into higher sales across the board.
The evolving ‘win-win’ concept is a reality check for shopping centre developers as well as their tenant retailers looking for new ways to increase footfall to their properties and outlets and compose a new tune for their cash registers.
In the US, Mall of America changed the economic landscape of the state of Minnesota and the retail landscape of the country. The Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre are doing the same in Dubai, creating the new mould that all players in the retail landscape of the region, even those of an earlier era, are now using to build a Middle East version of environment-neutral entertainment-cum-shopping for the global visitor and local resident.
Silvio Liedtke, COO, Landmark Leisure, says the three Fs are so intertwined that if you get one right, the other two components have good chances of success. The converse is equally true – get one wrong, it affects the other two components. Mall developers need to focus in equal measure on all three components, whether it relates to super regional malls or community malls.
“While developing a mall, the focus of investors, architects and designers must be on building retail elements around leisure and entertainment instead of the other way around. The developer of Mall of America recognised the opportunity in leisure when building the Nickelodeon Universe indoor amusement park in the centre of the mall, adding retail stores around it. It’s not surprising the amusement park attracts most of the footfall to the mall. Similarly, the success of The Dubai Mall in the UAE, too, can be attributed to its lifestyle and leisure offerings,” says Liedtke.
Prakash Vivekanand, managing director, Amusement Services International, points out that underperforming malls across the world have managed to improve their footfall and sales significantly either by adding F&B outlets, cinemas, a family entertainment centre, or different combinations of the three elements.
“Mall developers aim for longer dwell time. The longer the dwell time, the more opportunities retailers have to boost their sales. The three Fs should be designed and placed in strategic locations to increase the dwell time. A cinema or FEC can significantly extend the shopping hours of visitors, who then feel hungry and are likely to search for F&B outlets. Retailers can capitalise on this dwell time to attract visitors to their stores,” says Vivekanand.
Liedtke feels positioning an FEC adjacent to the food court is based on simple customer behaviour patterns – if they visit a cinema or FEC they are likely to visit the food court before leaving the mall.
“Malls are being designed to provide comfort to visitors so they can consider spending the entire day there instead of a few hours. Cinemas and FECs dominate the family entertainment scene in the Middle East. We’ve seen sales in our F&B outlets double when blockbuster movies are released,” adds Vaidya.
But the panellists pointed out that food, fun and films also need to evolve to survive and remain relevant to the consumer, like any other component of malls. Liedtke says FECs in community centres have a bigger role to play than being just entertainment venues. “FECs are today’s social and cultural venues for children. We conducted a survey last year on the play behaviour of children in the Middle East. We found 68% of children in the region aged under-10 years play alone. So, FECs have the unique opportunity to actively engage children in their catchment to participate in various sociocultural and educational activities,” he says.
Cinemas, too, must evolve to provide new experiences that go beyond the film itself, says Vivekanand. “We are in talks with a developer to design a unique cinema concept that offers corporate hospitality services and catering for a private audience,” he adds.
“FECs nowadays have to compete with high-tech video game consoles and cinemas have to compete with home theatre systems because these devices offer similar experiences to consumers in the comfort of their homes. So the three Fs need to evolve as technology advances to provide consumers the same kind of experiences available in their homes,” concludes Liedtke.