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Reinventing the shopping mall for the post-pandemic world

The 2023 competition focuses on one of the biggest challenges facing not just retail, but all urban spaces and societies around the world. For the last 60 years, our towns and cities have been shaped and redefined by major shopping malls and with it, retail too. They became the anchors and the heart of urban development and social activities. 


That era has now come to an end as department store anchors have closed and other retail tenants exited. In many countries, retail has been seen to have become “over-stored” with too much space chasing declining offline sales which had led to many retailers starting store closure programmes. The pandemic has accelerated this process to the extent that those town and city centres without a viable and radical strategy are in serious danger of declining irrevocably and with it the social fabric of those centres. It has been forecast that 25% of US malls will close within the next few years and in the UK, between 2016 and 2021, 83% of department stores - the anchors of so many malls - closed according to CoStar and the Financial Times.


Shopping mall owners and developers are now facing a real crisis and an urgent need to reinvent and rethink the purpose of large retail spaces such as malls. In a post-pandemic world that has seen ecommerce grow dramatically and towns and city centres decimated by the closure of retail, leisure and office spaces, one of the biggest questions is around what can be done to reverse this decline. 


There is strong evidence that consumers are returning to stores but their expectations are higher and more testing than ever before and although online growth is slowing, it is clear that those consumers demand a seamless experience between on and offline and they are looking for new reasons to visit established destinations. 


The Challenge

Against this background, the challenge is to ask each team to select a non-prime position shopping mall in your city - or country - which has a closed department store anchor and a high number of empty shop units and to then develop a plan for its revival that involves retail but other activities too that will result in a return of footfall, business and above all, a new vibrancy and relevance. 

This is an opportunity to completely rethink the decades-old shopping mall model and to therefore develop radical thinking and bold new ideas that you believe will appeal to today’s consumer and create a different kind of destination. 

Think about your chosen shopping mall and consider why it is facing these challenges. Who would your new mall be aimed at - which demographic groups and why? 

Develop a radical new strategy to relaunch and redevelop your selected mall.

Highlight the ideas at the heart of your new mall that will bring people back and attract new visitors.

Detail the new mix within your mall of retail, leisure, hospitality, experience, entertainment and any other special new ingredients or functions for your new mall. 

Think about the context of today’s “omnichannel” world where consumers expect a seamless connection between the on and offline worlds - what does this mean for your reinvented mall? How would you tackle the problem of consumers using malls and stores for “showrooming” before buying the products online?

How would you ensure your new mall is fit for purpose in an age that has to embrace sustainability demands and a Net Zero, circular economy? 

Identify the stakeholders that you believe would be essential to work with to ensure the success of your reinvention strategy. 

Include in your analysis the implications for the Mall owners/shareholders who have invested significantly in the mall.


What the judges will be looking for:

Your summary of the challenges facing your selected shopping mall as it is today which includes your analysis of why this has happened not just across the shopping mall sector but specifically to your mall. The mall you select should be in a non-prime position but with a closed department store anchor and a high number of empty shop units.

Your plan to reposition, relaunch and reinvent your chosen shopping mall. Within this plan, you should set out in detail:

  • Your vision for the whole space: what is the new proposition? What will be the “magic” ingredients and what is your thinking behind this and why you believe it will attract consumers? Who will be the consumer demographic groups selected and why?

  • What will be the mix of space usage in your repositioned mall between retail, leisure, hospitality, entertainment, experiential and any other sectors?

  • How will create a seamless “omnichannel” experience that blends digital, online expectations with physical space? How could you envisage the metaverse playing a role in your new strategy? How will you be able to tackle the challenge or opportunity of “showrooming”?

  • How will you make it relevant to your city and its consumers? Are there any real-life examples from your city that could provide inspiration and relevance within your new strategy?

  • What do you envisage being the biggest obstacles and challenges in persuading all the stakeholders of the successful outcome for your plan? Stakeholders will include the mall owners, the current tenants, future tenants, the city or town leaders, consumer groups.

  • How will you market and launch your new mall in order to attract consumers and tackle preconceived views based on the former mall?

  • What are the financials and returns for the Mall owners/ Shareholders?

  • How will you ensure that your new mall takes a lead in establishing strong Net Zero and sustainability benchmarks?

  • What will the Mall owners/ shareholders think and what will be their potential impacts on returns and value for the asset they own?

  • What will change to attract new retailers into the mall – rent, footfalls, brand presentation?

  • What will success look like?


You will be expected to have researched this sector of retail, leisure and hospitality real estate and teams will be able to consult with industry experts as part of their research. 


What you will need to do:


Produce a 10-page report that sets out your plans to meet the challenge. This should be submitted 10 days before the World Retail Congress which takes place on April 25-27th. 


The final of the Future Retail Challenge will be held at the World Retail Congress in Barcelona on April 25th and each team will give a presentation covering their ideas about how they will achieve the targets and goals set in the brief. The presentations will be given to a panel of judges and an audience of Congress retail delegates. 


The presentations will be no longer than 8 minutes with 3 minutes for questions from the panel of 4 senior retail industry judges. All four members of the team should be involved in giving the presentation.


Presentations should seek to be informative and entertaining.


At the Congress, each team will be given a display area with panels setting out the key ideas that show how your chosen retailer can meet the targets set by the challenge. The Congress will produce the display panels and construct the display area but each team should provide us with the images and graphics that will be shown on the display panels.

The winners of the 2023 Future Retail Challenge will be announced on the afternoon of April 25th.



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