A Mall Overhaul

Teens used to be mallrats, which made it much easier for companies to win their attention and their dollars, because they hung out in a space that was dedicated to brands and retail. Then came the era of social media and online shopping — and suddenly teens had little use for the mall, because they had other means to connect with friends and acquire products through digital platforms.

Retailers have been struggling to connect with teens--and young consumers in general--and as a result, many are closing their doors. Macy’s is shuttering scores of stores, Aeropostale is making deals to save a smattering of stores instead of shutting down completely, and Sports Authority is cutting back locations amid bankruptcy. The much -rumored death of malls seems imminent, but teens can actually be the salvation for many retailers who learn how to court this modern young consumer.

In-store shopping greatly appeals to teens for a number of reasons, meaning it has the opportunity to compete with the digital retail space. According to one study, unlike their older counterparts, 53% of teens prefer to shop with friends, and doing so in person is easier and offers deeper social engagement than doing so online.



Yet malls and stores have cut out much of the socialization that teens seek. They took away casual seating areas to make more room for products and kiosks, making teens feel less welcome to just come in and hang out.

While a third of teens report that they hang out at malls when they have nothing else to do, 42% wish stores would offer more designated areas where they can just hang out and relax, showing that this need is not fully being met.

Granted teens could always hang out at the food court, but even that area is less appealing to teens today because the food options have been slow to evolve with their tastes. In fact, 44%  of teens surveyed would like to see more food and beverage kiosks in stores, and more than a quarter long for more upscale food options at malls.

To teens, the shopping portion of retail is secondary to the social experience, so retailers should aim to look less like a store and more like a community center. Ironically, by taking the focus off selling products and putting it on creating a space for young people to hang out, teens are more likely to visit and more likely to buy, at least according to the “slow shopping” theory mentioned in this Wall Street Journalarticle.

Having never known a time when shopping online wasn’t a possibility, teens approach stores with a different mindset than their older counterparts. They don’t understand why the tools at their disposal online haven’t been integrated in stores.

Whether it be connecting their online accounts with their in-store experience or making it easier to save the items they find while shopping in person to a digital wishlist, stores could do far more to evolve in the technological age. This is particularly critical in reaching teens because their expectations are higher than even 20-something consumers. Teens are more likely than their older counterparts to want stores to offer virtual mirrors, on-demand 3D printed products, and virtual reality experiences. By delivering on digital, stores can actually use technology to compete with online retailers and win teen shoppers.

Despite spending an outsized amount of time online, a majority of teens today still prefer to shop in-store (60%) rather than online (41%). However, if retailers continue to stick to the their old ways of doing business, they will continue to lose teen shoppers. This is a critical point for stores and malls to win Gen Z while they’re young and still forming brand loyalties. As consumers get older, their preference for shopping online grows — and retailers will have missed the chance to convince them of the joys of shopping in-store.

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