Meeting Millennials where they shop: Shaping the FUTURE of Shopping Malls

The traditional shopping mall is under threat. Here is how to meet the needs of digital customers.

Digital technology is transforming global lifestyles and changing the way we live, work, shop, eat, play, and learn. Real-estate developers therefore must provide new ways to meet these needs.

One example is the shopping mall. These sit at the heart of communities in many cities in both the developed and developing worlds. But as consumers embrace digital technologies, developers must redefine the traditional shopping mall to adapt to this behavior.

In this article, we explore five consumer trends that will shape the future of the shopping mall.


Many millennials—adults born from the early 1980s on—prioritize spending on multisensory experiences and events over product ownership. They prefer instant gratification from entertainment and are attracted to media, gaming, and experiences that are shared socially. Half of millennials regularly go online for video games (versus 30 percent for Generation X); four in ten use social media to record their experience after using a product. Meanwhile, Gen X consumers—those born from the mid-1960s to early 1980s—are embracing digital from a different angle. For example, this segment increasingly views digital entertainment as an education tool, underpinned by smart technology and an expanding, globally connected Internet.

Meeting the needs of these groups while responding to rapidly developing technologies, such as virtual reality and participative experiences, will be the key to providing successful entertainment.

This disruption in traditional entertainment offerings has serious implications for the real-estate industry. Here are some ways that they may react:

  • Reimagining public spaces as a canvas for entertainment. This can mean integrating the community experience into the public realm via live social-media feeds and new display formats that share user-generated content. Technology will enable public events and spectacles to become participatory experiences with multisensory appeal, increasing visitor numbers and tying the physical space with the virtual world. Being part of such experiences and sharing them becomes a social currency for millennials, thus encouraging repeat visits.
  • Working with educators to create new learning opportunities via “edutainment.” Likely venues include museums and theaters, which could be redesigned to combine learning, discovery, and entertainment. Some destination malls are already considering designing entire districts as “hackable and playable.”
  • Redesigning entertainment hubs, such as movie theaters, theme parks, and gaming parlors as interactive experiences with virtual-reality content and immersive experiences where the customer becomes part of the story.

Food and drink

“Food is the new fashion” is the mantra that increasingly guides development. The expression reflects the idea that food has usurped fashion as a force in retail and travel. One example is the fast-growing trend toward healthy eating, driven by millennials’ preferences and government policies to curb obesity. Food-focused digital platforms that see consumers routinely reading online reviews before choosing restaurants or ordering through food-delivery platforms are on the rise.

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