Where Do Canadian Malls Fit In An Ecommerce World?

June 2, 2015 Jessica Thiele

malls mall retail shopping

The Story

Earlier this week, I had the misfortune of having to go into one of my local malls. The audacity of one of my friends to have a birthday, and then let me forget about it until only a few days before the event caused the unfortunate but necessary trip. With no time to shop online, I had to shop in person.

Gone are the days when I loved going to the mall. Years ago, it was a place for me and my friends to hang out, walk around, and maybe do some spur of the moment shopping. It was an experience, and it was a place to be and make real human connections.

The experience of being in the mall needs to be positive enough to outweigh the drawbacks.

Today, the mall is a place I loathe to even think about. It’s crowded, the customer service is generally lacking, and both the mall and the stores provide no unique experiences that would draw me in.

But crowds I can deal with, and I think most shoppers can, with one large caveat: the experience of being in the mall needs to be positive enough to outweigh the drawbacks.

And these days, malls just don’t cut it.

On this woeful trip to the mall, I knew exactly where I wanted to shop and what I was looking for. I had webroomed the store to see if they carried the type of gift I was looking for, but there was no ability to segment my search further or find out where the items I was hoping to purchased would be located in the three-story behemoth of a store I was headed to. I hadn’t even entered the store, but the lack of information and functionality on the retailers’ mobile ecommerce store did not give great foreshadowing.

When I finally got inside of the store, my nightmare worsened: not only was the store undergoing to major renovations (surprise!), meaning that sections of the store had been completely relocated, not a sales person or customer service rep was in sight. I walked around aimlessly in the store in search of where the gift I wanted might be, giving my best “please help me” look to any sales person in my vicinity.

No one helped, I didn’t find my item, and I left. And I bought my friend’s birthday gift from Amazon.ca.

The Reality

This experience really highlighted the fact that Canadian malls and the retailers they house don’t really fit into the new age of retail we’ve entered into in the past decade.

They’re not making it easy for shoppers to interact with the mall and individual stores in the ways we’ve become used to. And they’re not creating an environment where experience is king. Creating great experiences is one of the last strongholds malls have access to – and they’re not using it.

My shopping journey was more like abandoning me in the woods alone at midnight.

While an omni-channel unified presence is key these days, “retail is not about channels, it’s about solving problems” as stated in the opening line of the Benchmark Report put out by RSR Research this past week. “Retailers [need to] understand that digital needs to influence all touchpoints, and support all aspects of the shopping journey.”

The retailer I attempted to shop at missed those marks. I had a problem – I needed a gift, a specific gift, and I needed it fast. My shopping journey was more like abandoning me in the woods alone at midnight with a penlight and telling me to find my way back home. The mall and the retailer could have made it easier for me by improving my experience by simply bowing down to the way I like to shop: webrooming, getting in and out of the mall quickly, and going home.

The Future: Webrooming

Webrooming is part of the omni-channel mantra which places customer experience above all else. It’s supposed to be flexible to fit to how I like to shop – which, in this case, was webrooming, locating the object in store from the mobile store, and being done with things. Webrooming is an important trend. From AdWeek.com:

  • 69% of people aged 18-36 who own smartphones have webroomed (only 50% have showroomed)
  • 71% of people aged 37-48 who own smartphones have webroomed (only 53% have showroomed)

Mobile Payments Today summarized this new reality well: “As webrooming increasingly takes hold, merchants must work to eliminate friction across all touch points while unearthing new sources of value.”  The old mall concept of being a place to be has been trumped by the internet and ecommerce.

Malls need to draw people back in. A good place to start is helping me spend money with you by allowing me to shop the way I want to shop. The old retail model is dying: don’t force me back to 2001 when Amazon is happy to win my business away from you.

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