Malls used to be a one-stop shop for everything under the sun, from trendy apparel to sporting goods, boutique gifts, fast food, and electronics. But with over 3,500 stores expected to close in the near future—including crucial anchor stores like Macy’s, Sears and J.C. Penney—it’s increasingly apparent that the heyday for malls as we used to know them has come and gone.
But just because a store closes in the mall doesn’t mean it suddenly disappears off the map. This former retail space stays where it is, an often-haunting testament to how quickly the commerce landscape in America has changed in recent years. And, unsurprisingly, real estate managers are eager to repurpose this unused space into something that’s useful both for them and for customers who visit their property.
As it turns out, there’s a real opportunity for online retailers to use this brick-and-mortar space as part of an omnichannel sales strategy. As the Wall Street Journal reports, retailers are turning vacant mall space into distribution centers where customers can conveniently pick up and return items they bought online.
Online-first merchants are also opening both pop-up shops and permanent stores in malls and shopping centers to enhance their customer experience from start to finish. Combining a cloud ecommerce store with a physical location tends to provide customers with the best of both worlds—all the convenience of virtual shopping plus real-world customer service. Plus, it saves customers from potentially steep shipping fees and ecommerce businesses from having to pay for packaging and transportation.
When ecommerce entrepreneurs can provide their customers a choice between picking up their purchase or having it shipped, it tends to be beneficial for both parties. After all, 61 percent of people who have abandoned their online shopping cart during checkout cited high extra costs (like shipping, tax, and fees) as the reason for doing so. Many shoppers would prefer to drive a short distance to pick up their purchased goods, not to mention a convenient place to process returns and exchanges if necessary. Malls are particularly well suited for this function because they are, by nature, centrally located and readily accessible.
The future of omni-channel retail is promising, and there are many ways for retailers to harness the power of brick-and-mortar stores along with ecommerce operations. For instance, one study from Harvard Business Review found that customers “loved” using a combination of touch points—from comparing prices and finding coupons on a mobile app, to price checking and flipping through a catalogue on a kiosk or tablet inside the store.
Customers used every combination of purchasing imaginable, from ordering online and picking up in-person to buying in-person and getting the goods shipped straight to their home. They also spent more than those who just used one single channel on their shopping journey. The key to accommodating the needs of modern customers (and maximizing their conversions) seems to be flexibility in all areas.
Malls will likely never again be shoppers’ go-to destination for spending a full afternoon wandering around, window shopping, eating a pretzel in the food court and limiting their purchases to what each store can offer in person. But thanks to a well-informed combination of online shopping and in-person order fulfillment, malls can still play a crucial role in how consumers get their hands on the products they want and need via their favorite fulfillment method.
Where one person may see a mostly vacant mall or a stark testament to the past, an ecommerce entrepreneur sees an opportunity. Malls may in fact be the next exciting frontier for omni-channel selling in conjunction with ecommerce business.