Does e-commerce spell the end for shopping malls? Only if traditional retailers refuse to rethink their businesses
Not so much online revolution, more evolution
Online shopping has firmly arrived in the UAE and our lives will never be the same again. That seems to be the strong takeaway from news of the introduction of Noon.com, a new $1 billion online shopping platform. As The National reported, this puts the country on the “threshold of an e-commerce revolution”. Our business pages said that the online push promised to deliver a “more convenient and less expensive shopping experience”.
So, should traditional retailers wave the white flag now rather than face inevitable defeat from the marauding forces of the web? Certainly, our reporting suggested they might be well advised to. One retailer told our reporters that his takings were down from Dh25,000 at the weekend to Dh2,000. Sales at his store were similarly flat during the week.
One suspects though that a more considered evolution, rather than revolution, is under way. Given both our climate and culture, a trip to the mall will be a habit that many will find hard to break. Our malls are, after all, the town squares and civic spaces of our lives. They are the places where we go to meet family and friends, to relax, to walk and to while away a few hours.
What we are probably witnessing is the arrival of Malls 2.0. We’ve already seen many shopping centres give over greater amounts of space to restaurants as mall owners recognise changing tastes and visitor habits. Likewise, malls are now more likely to be leisure destinations with play centres, ski slopes and multi-screen cinemas. Crucially though, we are still spending our cash at these sites.
The challenge for traditional retailers is to recognise that online shopping offers a certain kind of convenience as well as the inbuilt flaw of customers not being able to see or touch goods before they buy. Outlets should leverage that weakness and reimagine their retail spaces as boutique showrooms. If mall owners have already recognised the changing nature of consumer tastes, it is incumbent on bricks-and-mortar stores to face up to the challenge too and find their niche anew. It is the stores themselves that need to lead the shopping revolution in the face of online evolution.