Rethinking Suburbia: Creating Communities to Suit Modern Lifestyles
Think carefully before you count out the concept of a physical shopping center. The construction industry needs to adapt intelligently to provide solutions for the way we live now, and that doesn’t necessarily mean taking physical retail spaces off the table.
RIP to the Suburban Megamall
What’s going on with retail? Once-thriving malls are now deserted and Amazon is set to make shopping a purely digital experience. But not so fast. The fact is that retail is actually doing fine in some areas. Sweeping statistics that cover the entire industry don’t include the nuance that’s needed to really understand what’s going on. Yes. most people are buying at least some of their stuff online, but that doesn’t mean that no one is shopping retail. Even Amazon is getting back into the retail game—it didn’t buy Whole Foods for nothing, and it’s starting to set up physical bookstores in some markets. There will always be a demand for an in-person shopping experience. It’s just that the way people live has changed, and retail needs to change with it.
Instead of assuming that retail is going the way of the dodo, construction leaders should find ways to adapt the concept to modern lifestyles. Millennials don’t like sterile suburbia. They want walkable communities that have some sort of unique heart and soul. Smart design can give them what they want and make physical retail relevant once more. It’s all a matter of being realistic about the balance of power between consumers and business. While businesses used to tell consumers what they wanted, the shoe is on the other foot now that digital technology is in play.
Consumers Have the Power
Before online shopping turned commerce upside-down, malls were really the best option many people had for getting what they needed. The choice between driving between disparate stores far away from each other or going to one location—be it a strip mall, a main street or a megamall—was clear for most consumers. If you build the mall, the shoppers will come, and indeed they did. Now, though, personal preference plays a lot more of a role than it did in the 20th century. This means that it’s essential for retailers and the construction firms they hire to listen to and look at what consumers are actually doing. Communication rather than prescription is the way forward.
These days, listening to consumers means moving away from old ways of approaching physical retail. When planning a retail space, architects and construction management should keep contemporary shopping culture in mind. Old-school malls were disorienting artificial temples of consumerism, but modern shoppers don’t really want that experience. They want to feel that they’re somewhere real, at a specific place with its own identity. They want to enjoy natural beauty and avoid the feeling of immersion that used to come with megamall shopping. By eschewing sterility and injecting a sense of unique identity into a retail space, we can deliver an enticing experience that draws shoppers out of their homes and into a thriving community.