A new Credit Suisse report estimates that 20 percent to 25 percent of American malls will close in the next five years.

Online shopping has become a Goliath for malls to challenge. With that, indoor shopping centers are tasked with updating their approach to draw consumers — especially outside of the holiday bustle. Valassis, an intelligent media delivery firm, recently conducted research to decipher what features will get shoppers inside a mall — and what’s currently deterring them from doing so.

“While the retail industry is certainly being disrupted, bricks-and-mortar stores aren’t going anywhere,” said Curtis Tingle, chief marketing officer at Valassis. “However, they do need to evolve to meet modern shoppers’ expectations. Consumers want convenience, product options and incentives and all bricks-and-mortar retailers, especially malls, need to understand their audience so they can provide an experience that makes visiting worthwhile.”

The research included an online survey of 1,000 consumers who had visited an indoor mall at least three times within the past year.

Though some results were rather bleak for malls — 40 percent of survey participants preferred to shop online for wider product variety — it did show some promise, too. For example, 60 percent of those polled said they’re more likely to shop in a mall for apparel versus an e-commerce platform. Thirty-nine percent said they enjoy shopping in malls for the opportunity to complete multiple purchases in a singular location, while 24 percent use mall shopping as an occasion to socialize with friends and family.

But this requires getting shoppers through the door — an obtuse challenge where many mall locations are continuing to stumble. Many have somewhat ironically opened their doors to Amazon to serve as Prime hubs for expedited deliveries and pick-ups.

“Whether that’s offering more discounts, valet parking or incorporating in-store technology, it’s all about catering to customers’ preferences and differentiating the in-store and online experiences,” Tingle said.

Online shopping is convenient, especially to time-poor Millennials who are incredibly digital-oriented. And the research reinforces this — 38 percent of participants said they avoid shopping at indoor malls due to hectic crowds and parking lots. Twenty-four percent of participants said they don’t visit indoor malls because they don’t want to travel, and 16 percent don’t want to tempt impulse purchases.

But these frustrations can spark motivation for malls. According to the research, these online consumers can be converted to in-store shoppers. Fifty-nine percent they would be encouraged to shop in an indoor mall if they extended exclusive deals or sales. Twenty percent would consider visiting indoor malls if parking lots were improved or if services like valet parking were available. Malls that open their doors to emerging — especially digital-first brands that have avid followers — for pop-ups would draw about 18 percent of survey participants.

By serving as a venue for digital brands to realize physical commerce while also delivering enhanced, premium customer experiences, malls might have a fighting chance. Strategically deploying technology to expedite checkouts or participate in augmented reality features will also provide a counterpoint to online shopping platforms, the research suggested. 

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