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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

He plays while she shops: man pods at malls ease gender divide

Videogames and reclining chairs help keep males entertained while their other halves shop 

Global Harbor Mall in Shanghai has installed the hugely popular man pods. Reuters
Global Harbor Mall in Shanghai has installed the hugely popular man pods. Reuters

At a Shanghai mall, rows of “man pods” equipped with videogames are proving a big hit, providing a refuge for hundreds of weary husbands and boyfriends as their other halves shop until they drop.

The first pods were launched at the Global Harbor shopping mall in Shanghai last month and since then over 1,000 men have used the facilities, according to Ruwo Smart Technology, the company behind the scheme.

Man pod users can recline in a chair with a large screen and play videogames while enclosed behind clear glass walls that shut out the bustle of other shoppers.

“I think this idea is pretty good because nowadays many boys like me are not willing to go shopping with their girlfriends,” said Yao Lei, a 26-year-old using one of the new booths on Saturday.

Malls will never be able to compete with the endless product selection, price comparisons and always-on nature of online, says a report by McKinsey. Nor should they try. Instead, malls need to move in a different direction, away from commoditised shopping experiences and towards a broadened value proposition for consumers.

Innovative malls are incorporating value-added elements that attempt to recast the mall as the new downtown, including concerts, arts centres, spas, fitness clubs and farmer’s markets. These services provide a level of leisure and entertainment that can never be satisfied online.

“It is critical that malls be about much more than stores. We see the mix of tenant/public space moving from the current 70/30 to 60/40, or even 50/50

“ When this happens, these expanded public spaces will need to be planned and programed over the year much like an exhibition. They will be managed more like content and media, instead of real estate,” the report says.

With retail spending in China increasing another 10 per cent in the second quarter of 2017, there could be huge demand for facilities such as man pods and the firm said it plans to expand the service to other shopping malls in the future.

“We found in most malls men and women go shopping together but men cannot accept spending a long time shopping,” said Zhao Wei, an operator of one of the pods.

“Sometimes they’ll even start having arguments. So we think in this situation we can have a product that gives a man something to do and the girls can go shopping at ease.”

The world of retail is changing dramatically, McKinsey says, but the mall still can have a central role in urban and suburban societies. To avoid becoming what one chief executive calls a “historical anachronism – a 60-year aberration that no longer meets the public’s needs”, mall operators must expand their horizons of what a mall can be. They must envision themselves no longer as real estate brokers, but instead as customer-facing providers of shoppable entertainment.

So soon, perhaps, man pods will be coming to mall near you.