Does the American Shopping Mall Have a Second Life?

Retailers have to customize the experience

Toys & Gifts, Belz Factory Outlet Mall, Allen, Texas.

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Traditional malls may be dying in suburbia, but the mall concept is booming in the nation’s largest airports, where an audience trapped behind security gates is looking for diversions. Air travelers are increasingly enticed by malls jammed with high-end retailers selling perfume, cosmetics, clothes, technology, wine and books.

Examples abound. This year, Los Angeles International Airport’s new Bradley West International Terminal will add more than 60 food and luxury retail stores, including Michael Kors and Fred Segal. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport recently increased space for retailers and concessions in Terminal A by 50 percent, with new upscale offerings including Geppetto’s toy store and wine bar Vino Volo. Over the next three years, Denver International Airport will completely overhaul its food, beverage and retail space, adding stores and updating existing ones.

Stacy Moore, a food retail strategist, says airport malls have become so popular that travelers have been known to go to the airport early so they’ll have time to explore the shopping promenade before a flight. Those retailers with the most success, she says, sell clothing, gifts, food or beverages that are unique, fun and tied to the local area. Wine shops with tasting counters are also big, as are Best Buy electronics kiosks and Life is Good gift shops.

Impressed with the sales trends, Moore opened her own shop that sells specialty food inside a new shopping mall at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Since Terminal C has become more populated with retailers, Moore reports a 30 percent sales bump for items like gluten-free sandwiches and packs of local chocolates and roasted nuts.

What, if anything, can zombie malls learn from these buzzing airport shopping hubs? Echoing the findings of the NRF, Moore says they demonstrate that consumers will still go to a physical shopping space but only if it lets them gain some specialized knowledge and have new experiences.

“Even in an airport, shoppers will walk right by a chain store with products and displays they can see anywhere,” says Moore. “If you are a mall, your only hope is in targeting the right customer behavior.” 

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