How Shopping Centres are Evolving as Innovative Destinations

17 August, 2023
How Shopping Centres are Evolving as Innovative Destinations

How Shopping Centres are Evolving as Innovative Destinations

In our last post, we looked at how – and why – footfall has been drastically falling in once-busy shopping centres. So, how are retail spaces tempting customers to come back? One solution is integrating innovative entertainment and leisure opportunities with retail. By boosting engagement, shopping centres are helping customers leave with new experiences and lasting memories – as well as shopping bags! 

The Evolution of the Shopping Centre 

Shopping centres are nothing new. In fact, malls have existed since Ancient Rome. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul was built in the 15th century and still thrives today as one of the largest shopping centres in the world, holding more than 4,000 shops.

This shows that there’s always been something appealing about having lots of stores in one place! Yet, malls – at least how we’d recognise them – first came about in the 1950s. As city populations boomed and car ownership rose, sprawling out-of-town shopping centres started to pop up in suburbs across the globe. 

Fast forward to the present day, and shopping malls have taken a battering. The rise of e-commerce combined with a global pandemic has seen people choosing to shop from the sofa instead of venturing out.

When it comes to hitting the mall, customer expectations are changing. They want more than transactions; they want an experience. So, if shopping centres want to thrive, they need to put customers’ evolving needs and desires at the core of their strategy. 

Malls as Entertainment and Leisure Destinations

We might think that people shun shopping centres because they’d rather browse at home with a cup of tea in hand. As so-called ‘digital-natives’, we might assume Gen Z Shoppers (those born between 1995 and 2009) would be almost impossible to tempt off their phone and into a shopping centre.

Yet, research has shown that three quarters of global Gen Z shoppers think that going to a brick and mortar store is a better experience than shopping online. In fact, physical retail spaces represent a welcome break from all that screen time. Increasingly, they crave the social interaction and experiential aspect of real-life shopping that an e-commerce store simply can’t provide. 

To meet this, shopping centres are increasingly blurring the lines between entertainment, hospitality, leisure and retail. It’s no longer enough to take home new clothes or the latest video game; shoppers want to leave with new experiences and positive social interaction. 

From climbing walls to skating rinks to interactive art exhibitions, malls are already incorporating activities that go way beyond shopping. These elements give shoppers – especially younger ones – reasons to visit and stick around in shopping centres. 

So, what can we expect from malls of the future? Perhaps we can look to Westfield’s vision of the Destination 2028 Concept. The proposal imagines shopping centres of the future as ‘hyper-connected micro-cities’ that seamlessly integrate leisure, experience and wellness with shopping.

From allotments that allow customers to pick their own fruit and veg straight from the soil to recreational watersports, Westfield’s team of experts has big expectations for malls of the future. 

Unsurprisingly, digital and AI are envisioned to play a huge role in these future retail destinations. Whilst magic mirrors will show shoppers a virtual reflection of themselves wearing a variety of garments, eye scanners will bring up information about a visitor’s previous purchases to make recommendations. 

Going Digital: Future-Proofing Shopping Centres with Innovative Signage

Whilst magic mirrors and eye scanners might all sound a bit sci-fi, the reality is that innovative digital solutions are already augmenting shopping experiences as we speak. Replacing static signage with dynamic digital solutions is helping malls to deliver the interaction and social experiences that shoppers crave.

From using interactive screens to see if their favourite item is in stock to sharing photobooth selfies on screens across the mall, customers are using digital to make their shopping experiences easier and more memorable.

Equally, design elements like video walls and dynamic digital displays bring a wow factor that online shopping simply can’t replicate. Using digital displays in conjunction with solutions like music and scent marketing allows brands to truly connect with their customer and build brand loyalty. 

In fact, using digital signage to advertise is a great strategy for all retailers. A study by Milward Brown found that 55% of Gen Z favour OOH ad formats, compared to just 34% choosing mobile display. This means that digital shopping centres ads – especially when they’re fresh and eye-catching – are likely to resonate much more than endless reams of mobile ads. 

Fusing Retail, Leisure and Hospitality with Merson Group

Working with some of the most-visited malls across the UK, Merson creates bespoke digital solutions to meet and exceed customers’ evolving expectations of the shopping experience. How do we do it? By using signage to provide the interactions, fresh experiences and visual wow-factor that modern shoppers crave. 

From providing innovative digital touch screen displays for seamless navigation at Royal Victoria Place to installing some of the largest tenant totems in the UK at Fosse Park, we’re helping to future-proof shopping centres with fresh elements and design.

And as the lines between retail, entertainment and hospitality become increasingly blurred, Merson is providing innovative solutions to trailblazing experiential concepts. One of these is Toca Social, the world’s first interactive football and dining experience, combining immersive gaming and world-class food and drink in London’s O2 Arena. 

To attract visitors to try something new, Toca needed dynamic signage that represented their innovative offering. So, our team got to work on an eye-catching totem with bespoke double-sided LCD screens and an integrated QR code booking system. A cutting-edge solution for an innovative activity, it now couldn’t be easier for customers to lock in their Toca Social experience. 

However, it is not all about digital – we increasingly provide families of digital and traditional static signage, in order to compliment the look and feel of which has to be consistent and in keeping with the other design elements of the mall.

As you can see, Merson is on the frontline of the fusion between retail, hospitality and entertainment. As customers expect more from shopping centres and multi-function venues, you can expect more from us.

Book a virtual reality demo to see how your retail park or shopping centre could look with the help of Merson at