It occurred to me that with the price of gas through the roof and due to stay at elevated levels for the foreseeable future, shopping patterns will almost certainly change. Not to mention the fact that hybrid technology is not quite cost effective as yet (unless you want to drive something that looks akin to the Hunchback of Notre Dame), people’s habits will instinctively change as they monitor their fuel expenses.

That does not mean that shopping is out. As a matter of fact, I believe this situation is actually better news for shopping centres than anyone else. If the local or regional mall has done a superb job at re-merchandising their tenant mix and updating their mall experience, then it will make good sense for those who have a list of things to do to drive to one location and be able to take care of everything on that list. This is what the malls should be thinking about over the next 5 years or so.

It isn’t necessarily about cramming as many small footprint retailers who can afford to pay exorbitant rents and strain to produce the ungodly high sales per square foot sales productivity just to pay the bills. I am talking about simple research into a typical shopper’s day and the places he/she has to go. If this is a doctor’s appointment, shoe repair, dry cleaners, hardware store, grocery store, tailor, high quality restaurant, coffee houses, fitness centre, yoga studio, massage therapist, day care, hair dresser, or whatever it is that people do on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis, it behooves the malls to become even more of a one stop shopping experience. Build a second floor if you must so that your economics work, but create an all encompassing experience. It seems to me you will get more of your share of traffic than some of your competition that don’t have the luxury of the space and breadth you can offer.

This has been part of Wal Mart’s strategy in their own microcosm (although that word seems like an oxymoron for such a behemoth of a retailer). They have branched out into groceries in a big way and are trying to become more of a one stop shop for everyone. They seem to be one of the only retailers making some consistent gains in this economic downturn we are experiencing.

Power Centres were everyone’s darling over the past 10-15 years (now they are morphing into “Lifestyle Centres”) but they just can’t offer what a major mall can. Firstly, you are outside and whether you are in Canada or anywhere north of the Carolinas in the United States, it is not that pleasant to shop outdoors from November until April. Not only that, in order to get any kind of breadth of choice, you cannot walk from store to store anyway, as it’s too far. You have to get in your vehicle, start it up and drive from spot to spot. That can get expensive these days.

I have always loved the mall. I give them credit for dealing creatively with the glut of space that has come their way from the department store consolidation across this continent. There is going to be a bit of turnover over the course of this year again. Let’s see what the mall landlords do to ensure they draw traffic and make it easier for all of us to save on gas and at the same time, they will even be doing their share for a healthier environment.

TheRetailTherapist 🙂