Note: This was an article which we wrote and appeared first in a publication called “Focus Malaysia” for their August 25 – 31, 2018 issue. Do get it in news stands and bookstores such as MPH.
Shopping… some would call it the favourite past time of most Malaysians and that could be a fair assessment of the situation but for us as consumers or visitors to the mall, we have to ask ourselves this very pertinent question, is the size of a shopping mall integral to which mall we ultimately decide to visit? In short; the age old question we are trying to seek an answer for, is the bigger the size of the mall always better?
To answer this very question, a survey was conducted by us among a small sample of shoppers (about 140 participants) and we found that 76% of our respondents indicated that the size of the shopping mall directly influenced their choice when deciding on a mall to visit. Further to that it also noted that 74% of respondents indicated that the number of stores available in a mall was also an important factor for their decision in deciding which mall to visit.
However, a quick check with our partner Stratos Consulting Group shows that mall openings which are less than 500,000 square feet of Nett Lettable Area (NLA) have been increasing since the year 2000. Leading up to the year 2000, 82.5% of all malls opening in Malaysia were less than 500,000 square feet but this number increased to 86% of all mall openings from the year 2000 to 2018. Malls in this instance, also refers to retail centers that have at least 50,000 square feet of Nett Lettable Area (NLA), which includes hypermarkets and retail podiums.
Which brings us to another interesting question, could this be a contributing factor as to why most of the smaller malls in the Klang Valley which have been opened in the last 18 years since the year 2000 have not being doing well and are finding it hard to attract shoppers because these malls run contrary to what the market is looking for as indicated by our survey respondents? Regrettably, this is a question which may be too difficult to for us answer within the context of this article.
We further followed up that question with another one, where we wanted to understand what exactly do shoppers go to a shopping mall for?
The response from our survey conducted, pointed out that overwhelmingly 83% of respondents choose to visit the mall for the purpose of searching for food followed closely by 69% who responded that getting groceries was their primary purpose of visiting a mall. Coming in at 68% of respondents indicated that entertainment was what drove them to visit the mall which was surprising to us as meeting with friends and family only came in 4th with 59% of respondents indicating that this was the reason for them to visit a mall.
Another study conducted in Singapore entitled The Magnetism of Suburban Shopping Centers: Do Size & Cineplex Matter? by Joseph Ooi and Loo-Lee Sim found that mall visits by shoppers were usually multipurpose by nature and the results shown in that study identified an opposite trend from ours where meeting with family and friends (57.7%) was the main reason for visiting the mall followed by shopping (52.7%) and lastly for the purpose of having meals (46.0%). But we believe that something both the results of that study and our own survey show that to shoppers, size of the shopping mall does factor into their decision about whether to visit that particular mall.
Granted that the size of a shopping mall matters in the decision of which mall shoppers choose to visit, we also wanted to find out were there any other criteria which influenced shoppers choice in this area. From information provided to us by our partner Stratos Consulting Group and our own survey , we found that the ease of parking (85% of respondents) represented a huge concern for shoppers in Malaysia when it comes to deciding which mall to visit whilst 71% of respondents indicated tenant mix was equally important. However, we believe strongly that the time it takes to travel to a specific mall also factors into the equation for shoppers in deciding which mall to visit.
It is important to note that our survey covered this though from a slightly different viewpoint where we asked respondents if they would travel out of their usual home to work route to visit a shopping center which promised great discounts and offers on its products and services. Overwhelmingly 69% of respondents indicated that they would do so which to us would explain the success of malls such as Mitsui Outlet Park, Johor & Genting Premium Outlets which draw in a huge number of visitors even though they are located away from major urban centers.
In conclusion, the answer to the question of whether bigger malls are better is enthusiastically “YES”, research papers and survey to shoppers do show us that bigger malls are indeed better in their opinion.
Nevertheless, for us within the industry, we find the need to go beyond what the results are saying. Yes, bigger malls are better but if we delve into the heart of the matter, we believe it is more important that a mall fit and serve the needs of the community it belongs to beyond just being bigger in size. The mall needs to function as a place making space, where communities can share the space with their loved ones, friends, etc and relationships can be forged on top of the space serving as a place of commerce as well.
The reason we feel this way is because of this, not many customers knew they would want to shop at what started out as a simple online bookstore in 1994. To date; Amazon, an e-retailing behemoth closed 2017 with 178 billion US dollars in sales and has considerably changed the way we as consumers shop.
The point we are getting at is this, Jeff Bezos and the team at Amazon identified an un-met market potential to change the way people shopped for goods when all their competitors in the market either did not see it or it was not a priority for them (i.e. Amazon’s competitors). In the same vein, developers of shopping malls today need to see the un-met needs of the community where the mall is going to be built and ensure that the mall serves to meet those needs.
In that way, the mall can function not just as a space of commerce but more importantly it can function as a space for the community to congregate, build and enrich their lives. This builds a symbiotic relationship between the community and the mall. When that happens, we think the size of the mall will not matter as much. To borrow a line from Cheers, you want to go where everybody knows your name.
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