The resurgence and recentering of Shopping Malls.


Future Direction, Innovations and Trends in Europe

In a rapidly innovating world, it seems that traditional brick-and-mortar shops are failing and failing fast. Dubbed the “retail apocalypse”, numerous branch closures of traditional stores like Sears, Gap and Walgreens paint a dreary picture. 

Interestingly, however, this “retail apocalypse” hides the larger story: a transformation. This is a resurgence and recentering around what people truly value when consuming retail products. Whilst older business models are failing, e-commerce goes from strength to strength. Many new physical shops are also opening and finding strong success. Far from abandoned shopping malls and empty high streets, we’re seeing growth in an entirely new direction.

More and more, retail spaces are public spaces, which represent an intersection of physical and online shopping. Grabbing a coffee, checking out an exhibition and dipping into your favourite online brand’s newest pop-up store is the vision of the shopping mall of the future. 

In terms of how this will look, Europe in particular hosts many fantastic developments in this market. Let’s take a look into the future of shopping malls in Europe in particular, with a focus on key players changing the game.

The European Shopping Mall Market

Shopping malls hit Europe shortly after they became popular in the United States. The first European shopping mall is often thought to be the Main-Taunus-Center in Germany, which opened its doors in 1964. The popularity of this particular kind of retail centre has steadily grown ever since. 

Indeed, when it comes to development, shopping mall construction has been steady and strong in Western Europe throughout 2019. Central and Eastern Europe experienced a small decline from last year. However, these retailers are experimenting with new formats and outlet centre activity. The retail centre market is buoyant. Innovation and experimentation is at its heart. 

Shopping malls in Europe are a community space; somewhere to have a first date, get your ears pierced and have a teenage hang out without those pesky parents. In the coming years, it is precisely the “community” element of shopping malls which will take centre stage. A sense of community will be enhanced and capitalised upon to create interactive spaces for socialising and collaborating with brands. This shopping centre of the future will host relevant, personalised, brands and events, which focus on genuinely improving their client’s lives. 

At the recent EFMP conference in London our partners met with the team at Westfields one of Europe’s key drivers of shopping mall innovation. Westfield officially first opened to Europe in London in 2008. Primarily a shopping centre, this space changed the game by being so much more. Office space, lunch place, hangout area, activity centre and coffee spot, with shops and pop-ups scattered throughout. This futuristic concept took London by storm. 

The company responsible for Westfield, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, has invested more than £4 billion in London sites over the past decade, with a further estimated £22 billion investment planned by 2027. This will see even more retail, homes, offices, cultural and learning institutions developed in the area, according to Michel Dessolain, COO Europe for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. Looking at Europe overall, Westfield’s growth is only continuing, with 10 new flagship destinations ready to be rebranded across Europe for 2020, too. 

Another successful European shopping centre player making a big impact on the market can be seen in Liverpool ONE. This city-centre shopping space aims to suit changing customer demands by introducing “dining and leisure and creating a warm place for people to meet and interact” - Dunnett.

So, what elements, factors and trends do these super-shopping-centres of the future offer? 

The Shopping Centres of the Future: Key Features 

We know that in a changing landscape, shopping centres have to innovate to stay ahead of the game. Reports from strategic foresight consultancy, The Future Laboratory, indicate that there are three main future trends involved in shopping mall evolution to look out for. These are: 

Community-builders: Retail spaces will host events and provide services which connect people, allowing open discussion, play and experimentation around products.

Hero-Hunters: Consumers look for trustworthy, ethical spaces which are truly integrated with their wider community and local businesses. Shopping centres will reflect this with relevant ethical and community centred products and services.

Service-Synergists: Service staff will be seen as genuine subject matter experts on the items they’re representing. Creating deep, trusted connections with consumers is the aim, in order to mutually benefit from individual relationships. The consumer and the brand should not be seen as different entities.  

In practice, what does this look like in Europe? Westfield has recently unveiled its “Destination 2028” vision, which is a concept for the future of Westfield retail parks. This concept is a fantastic summary of the individual trends contributing to the evolution of the shopping centre in Europe. It delivers the idea of community retail spaces which truly offer something special. It’s a “hyper-connected-micro-city”, driven by social interaction and community.

Not only Westfield but all over the world, shopping centres are responding to futuristic trends hitting the market and taking centre stage. Considering Westfield’s Destination 2028 trends and features, let’s examine the individual elements which will make up the shopping mall of the future. 

Health and Wellbeing: 


Wellness is the new luxury. We have written about the heath trend before. Consumers value their health above all else, and ensuring that shopping malls cater to this need is key to remaining relevant. This doesn’t just mean malls simply selling more health products. Around one-third of surveyed shoppers have indicated that they would be interested in attending health and fitness sessions at their favourite store. 


This means that in the future, shopping malls will become spaces which focus on consumer health and wellness. Expect to be doing yoga and pilates in your favourite Nike outlet sometime soon! 


Indeed, Westfield’s 2028 vision includes wellness centres, calming plants and sensory gardens scattered throughout. A network of waterways also flows throughout the centre, and mindfulness workshops will be hosted in the “betterment zone”.  It certainly seems Europe will be catching on to this trend with enthusiasm.  


Digital and Physical Meet 

Bringing the online space and the physical space together is a lucrative trend. “Click-and-mortar” is the increasingly popular trend of buying online and having the item delivered in-store.  In the future, this trend is set to continue its growth exponentially. However, it will also be turned on its head, in that you will be able to order in-store and have your items reach your home before you do. 

Delivery drones envisioned by Westfield’s 2028 vision would enable shoppers to pay at the mall and have the item delivered to their home. This blurs the line between the online and offline shopping experience and creates one seamless synergy between the two. 

Shopping malls in the future will perfectly epitomise the blend and combination of both online and offline retail.

E-Commerce Collaboration

Shopping malls exist in the physical, brick-and-mortar world, but will increasingly be collaborating with e-commerce retailers to innovate and grow. E-commerce value in Europe is forecasted to be €621 billion by the end of 2019, marking a 13% growth from 2018. With shoppers in Europe alone spending one of every five euros online, the market is certainly healthy. 

Shopping malls are evolving as the retail space does. Growth in e-commerce directly translates to innovations within the shopping centre space. In the future, shopping malls will build online retailers up and vice versa.

This can already be seen, for example, in the United States. Popular concepts of “scaleable retail platforms” are gaining traction, such as The Edit. This is a pop-up space for e-commerce start-ups in shopping centres. 

E-commerce stores are eager for a physical space for clients to interact with their product and brand in real life. With online retailers finding great success in opening their own pop-ups and then expanding to “click-and-mortar” stores in malls, it’s all about creating a following and sense of community, and this is only set to grow.

High Tech Personalisation

Personalisation is another growing trend in retail which shopping malls are already beginning to capitalise on. Personalised features such as adding items to a physical dressing room via an iPad, digital mirrors and even body scanners which tell you your exact size can already be found in stores around the world. 

Indeed, the future looks set to deliver more innovative personalisations like this. Westfield’s 2028 vision predicts magic mirrors and smart changing rooms, which give shoppers a virtual reflection of themselves wearing new garments. In addition, other innovations will be scattered throughout the space, like smart toilets which can detect hydration levels and nutritional needs.

Westfield also predicts walkways which fuse with artificial intelligence. When entering the shopping centre, eye scanners are set to recall information upon entry about the visitor’s previous purchases. This will be used to create personalised shortcuts and routes around the centre. 

Classroom Retail

Learning and understanding more about the products they purchase and the brands they interact with is a big part of the future retail experience. Shopping centres will thus become spaces where consumers can learn new skills and build social networks. 

Imagine arriving in your favourite store, and learning exactly how to tailor an outfit to yourself, or how to cook a meal with new ingredients at your supermarket. This is classroom retail, and it offers customers the chance to learn from retailers. 


Whether it’s artists painting in a gallery, or craftspeople creating their latest pieces on the shop floor, consumers can expect to be very involved in the process from start to finish. This trend is already catching on in Europe. The bike shop and cafe, Look Mum No Hands, offers bike maintenance classes in-store, creating a sense of community and wellbeing around their products. 


Similarly, shopping centres will provide spaces for co-working, temporary retail and even allotments and farms where shoppers can pick their own produce. 

Payment systems  

Yet another manifestation of the sharing economy, “retail rental” is the way payment and purchasing is going. This means that consumers will simply rent an item of clothing, tech, or other product for a short period of time. Urban Outfitters has already jumped on this trend, launching Nuuly as a rental retail product. 

A monthly subscription to rent clothes may seem like an alien concept, but it’s backed by consumer demand. Included in Westfield’s 2028 vision is this sharing-economy rental-retail plan. Predicted to become the norm for post-Millenials, renting everything from tech to gym wear is certainly a possibility for the future of shopping malls. 


Food is a cultural touchpoint. It’s a place for people to come together and talk and socialise. Already, shopping malls feature many food outlets, and people are encouraged to dine when they shop. However, the evolution of this trend looks set to be something along the lines of many different pop-up restaurants and places to eat. Chefs will show guests how things are prepared. In terms of generally eating, customers will also be able to pick fruit and vegetables from allotments in the shopping centre. 


As a market leader, Westfield is already ahead of the game with this innovation. Launching this coming summer, Westfield Square is a planned outdoor space which promises to be a dining, entertainment and experience location. It will be the focal point of the centres £600 million expansion. 


In terms of the shopping mall experience in Europe, changing with the times is the way forward. Ensuring that customers get personalised, community-centred experiences is key. The trend is about enhancing the mixed-use nature of the shopping sites and incorporating technology. 


The shopping malls of the future are set to be super-connected, wellbeing-focussed community areas, which are hyper-personalised to consumer needs. This means that retailers must adapt to fit into this space. Consumers don’t want to walk around looking through dusty stock and inventory. They want an experience which is tailored to them and epitomises on the relationship they have built with the brand itself. As always, innovating means listening to consumers and adapting, offering delights and platforms for personal connections and growth. 

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