What will malls of the future look like?

22 Nov 2021

Head of Asset Operations, Singapore, Jenny Khoo shares her views on the future of retail with the Straits Times.

Jem was just one more big mall with the usual mix of shops and food outlets when it opened in2013, but it has undergone a transformation over the past few years and now boasts a far quirkier retail line-up.

The shopping centre in Jurong became the site of Ikea’s first store within a mall, while also hosting specialised offerings such as organic Australian grocer Scoop Wholefoods and gourmet food retailer Vom Fass.

The Jem makeover is far from unique here, with many malls fast evolving into spaces that serve up a lot more than just food and retail, a process spurred by the pandemic.

These new-look malls will feature concept stores that offer an experience – not just goods – and more community spaces for hybrid work, exercise and exhibitions.

Ms Jenny Khoo, Lendlease Singapore’s head of asset operations, noted that even while Covid-19 has sparked a boom in e-commerce, it has also shown that physical shopping remains relevant.

“One thing Covid-19 has taught us is that shopping malls are here to stay,” she said. “Online shopping is very easy – just a click away – but many of us have multi-layered needs. After staying home for
a while, you want to get out, and that experience cannot be replaced by online shopping.”

Lendlease manages Jem and three other malls here. A CapitaLand spokesman added that the property giant still sees strong interest in malls, having opened more than 150 new stores in its Singapore shopping centres in the first half of this year. It also had an overall portfolio occupancy of above 97 per cent as at June 30.

But this does not mean that the same cookie-cutter malls across the island can keep drawing crowds; change is also needed to appeal to the new needs of consumers.

Ms Khoo said: “Traditionally, department stores and other big box retailers have always been anchors of a shopping mall. Now, it’s about concept-driven stores regardless of the real estate footprint.”

She noted that Lendlease’s malls have increased their allocation for concept tenants which offer experiences that cannot be replicated online.

Lendlease’s Paya Lebar Quarter (PLQ), for example, has a 7-11 concept store with a self-serve beer corner.

Other mall developers have also gone for fresh concepts. CapitaLand’s Funan hosted a new retail concept and collectibles gallery by BLAXK that showcases art figurines and prints.

Frasers Property Retail chief operating officer Tan Kee Yong said: “Retailers and shoppers are seeking innovative, experiential retail concepts, or new-to-market brands. The mall is no longer just a place to browse and buy goods, but also a destination to consume experiences.”

The tenant mix will also increasingly reflect the local community and entrepreneurs, Ms Khoo said.

For instance, home-grown fashion retailer Love Bonito opened its first store at Lendlease’s [email protected] but has since branched out to Jem as well.

Other local stores, like clothes retailers TRT and Stagewalk as well as artisanal fragrance label Scent by Six, have also opened in Jem.

“Covid-19 brought challenges, but also opportunities,” Ms Khoo said. “We have seen some of our local talent coming forward with proposals and we want to give them the chance to test out the market.”

Another upcoming localised concept is a social kitchen at PLQ, employing the disadvantaged to offer plant-based food.

Besides tenants, atrium spaces, which have traditionally been used for sales and sampling items, are undergoing a shake-up as well.

Frasers’ Mr Tan said: “The first aspect is to implement a communitycentric spatial design: How can we conscientiously design our malls so that there are pockets for engaging community activities, safe traffic flow, and an overall environment that helps a community thrive?”

Frasers partnered co-working firm JustCo to launch booths at nine malls for people to work in. These have been gaining momentum among shoppers since their January launch, in line with the flexible working trend, he said.

Similarly, Lendlease is using PLQ’s open plaza space to host community events such as yoga lessons, exhibitions and job fairs.

Ultimately, physical spaces do not stand in opposition to virtual ones, but can complement each other, the mall developers said.

CapitaLand, for one, has started two online platforms with 600 brands so people can browse and pre-order before picking items up in stores.

Mr Chris Chong, CapitaLand Investment chief executive of retail and workspace in Singapore and Malaysia, noted that tenants have continued to see sales grow, outpacing the actual footfall at the malls in the second quarter of the year thanks to digitalisation efforts and online sales.

Similar online efforts are also seen in Frasers’ e-commerce marketplace, which runs alongside a digital food and beverage concierge.

The concierge gives tenants a platform for contactless pre-orders, payments, collection or delivery meals. It is also testing out a livestream flash sales event on Facebook to bring tenants virtually to shoppers.

Mr Tan said: “As we move towards an endemic Covid-19, malls should evolve beyond offering accessibility and amenities.”

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Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.