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Five Takeaways from WD Partners’ Research on the Future of Malls

New white paper from WD Partners finds consumers want to see farmers’ markets and food halls at malls.

It’s no secret that malls are in need of vast transformations. WD Partners, a branding and design firm, recently released “Apocalypse to Relevance,” a white paper that discusses what tomorrow’s malls might look like to consumers. More specifically, WD’s research seeks to answer the question: which concepts would work best to fill large, vacant anchor spaces? Here are some key points from the piece.

  1. Food is king. Farmers’ markets, food halls and grocery stores were popular answers to the researchers’ question of which concept would most influence a shopper’s decision to visit a mall. Seventy-eight percent of survey responders said a farmer’s market would sway their decision to go to a mall, compared to 71 percent who chose food halls. Third on the list, following green spaces, were grocery stores.
  2. Food also increases frequency of visits. The above-mentioned concepts were the most likely to bring in more frequent foot traffic as well. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they would go to a mall more often if it had a farmer’s market, compared to 38 percent for food halls. In general, all three food concepts—farmers’ markets, food halls and grocery stores—were ranked as the top three of respondents’ favorite concepts (respondents could select two).
  3. Few people want malls to disappear entirely. The firm asked if respondents would prefer malls “go away”—and the answer that respondents would prefer no malls always came last in the rankings. It’s a sign that malls are still relevant, if in need of makeovers.
  4. Digital natives are more open to new mall concepts than their older counterparts. WD’s research found that for all but one of the 10 new concepts presented to respondents (excluding “none”), greater percentages of digital natives (consumers who grew up with computers and smartphones) said they would visit malls if those concepts were installed. For example, 47 percent of digital natives said they would visit a mall’s farmer’s market, compared to 31 percent of digital immigrants. Food halls was the only exception to this, as this concept would draw 48 percent of digital immigrants, compared to 41 percent of digital natives.
  5. Creativity will win. Digital natives seek concepts that can create social opportunities, the WD says. “If a brand isn’t where shoppers shape and realize their identities within the physical world, then it isn’t relevant. If malls don’t find a way to be that place, believe us, someone else will,” the paper states.

The white paper was based on the results of a survey that was administered online between April 12 and April 24, 2018. It was completed by 4,012 category buyers.

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