According to Wikipedia, Neverland is a fictional island featured in the works of J. M. Barrie and those based on them. It is an imaginary faraway place where Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, the Lost Boys, and some other mythical beings and creatures live. Although not all people who come to Neverland cease to age, its best-known resident – Peter Pan – famously refused to grow up.
Thus, the term is often used as a metaphor for eternal childhood (and childishness), as well as immortality and escapism.
If we look closely for a metaphor in retail and consumer industry, the popular shopping mall seems to fit the description of Neverland to the T. They were struggling for revenue growth and relevance (to grow up) – with the arrival of convenient online shopping – even before the Covid pandemic hit the world. From being a primary consumer shopping destination (immortality), they were already driven towards the sidelines of a customer journey – movies, food courts, events, pop-up stores, fitness centres, meeting venues, etc. They have understood this reality well enough and did start revisiting their value proposition towards an “Experience” play (escapism). Unfortunately, they haven’t made this switch fast enough or impactful enough yet. And the pandemic now finds them fighting to at least live longer than the economic destruction it has caused to the business. With individual retailers (that populate the mall and are their primary source of income) themselves struggling for revenue (read: share of consumer wallet) and paying rentals to the mall, the shopping mall of today needs to rejig its entire business model where, 1) Experience is solidly at the forefront of their value proposition, 2) And, they are able to Monetize their offerings centred on the Experience proposition.
I have attempted to set some direction for ‘Experience-focused’ Shopping Mall 2.0 below:
1) Scale Up the Gaming & Sports Zone:
Most malls we know have a Gaming Arcade in some (usually top) corner of the Mall – with maybe 50 gaming tables and consoles of some kind. Bring this section in the prime ground floor section of the mall and expand the range of gaming options to more than 100 tables/consoles – pursue an endless aisle of gaming options, if you may
Building on the above, conceptualize and host an E-sports ecosystem, within the environs of the Gaming Arcade – which is likely to exhibit hyper growth in the years to come
Even hosting a regular Sports event will do – I recall a mall abroad hosting a town Chess Tournament in its ground floor section way back in 2010. Local/Suburban Sports Clubs do this every year in Mumbai (where both parents and kids spend an entire day at far-flung venues with limited facilities, why can’t a mall do it better?). It sure seemed like a luxury experience then. It may become a popular experience now
Make space for an Indoor Sports Club along with a Coaching ecosystem – especially in countries like India – where avenues for structured indoor sports are so few and expensive. Badminton, Table Tennis, Squash, Cycling (!), Chess, Carrom, Cards (the Bridge kind), Cricket (Nets) – everything that can happen in storied Clubs with huge Membership fees can be made available at the Mall in hourly fees
2) Shrink Down the Theme Parks and Theatres for a Mall Version:
Build a centre for Performing Arts (read: Broadway!) – The likes of Disneyland have shows and plays (not only at its theme parks but even with licensed versions for Theatre and Broadway) centred on its popular stories of Aladdin, Lion King, Frozen and Snow White – which can easily be co- hosted in an In-house Cinema chain. Maybe a Prithvi Theatre can open a branch at Inorbit Mall in Malad and run a Weekends-only calendar. (Note that the state of Play Theatres is probably in worse shape than Malls and they can actually steal that share from them with its polished and clean Air-Conditioned ecosystems)
Invite Museums and Aquariums-a-plenty – The likes of Madame Tussaud’s and Taraporevala Aquarium (!) can easily be setup within the size of a 3-storied Department Store that is vacating the premises now
Host the likes of Cirque de Soleil and the Windmill Festival within the Mall – I recall how surprised I was when I caught the actual ‘performance stage size’ (read: small) during the Cirque de Soleil’s India release ‘Bazzar’ around 2 years back. I can’t help wonder why it cannot be hosted within the open car park of some mall, which leads to footfall and revenue before and after the show is over (rather than zero experience in a MMRDA Bandra ground!). Ditto experience with the Windmill Festival, which with its variety of activities can actually be spread all around the Mall rather than an open ground
3) Drive-In Theatre and Music Events:
This one is my favourite when it comes to the funky quotient: A Drive-in Concert (where Malls have large open Parking Lots). It might seem whacky but thanks to the pandemic, it has become very main-stream. Billboard USA has an actual list of all Drive-In Concepts that are happening all over the USA: https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/concerts/9379646/drive-in-concerts-list-coronavirus. And it is even happening in places in Indonesia: https://www.indiatoday.in/trending-news/story/indonesia-drive-in-concert-delivers-live-music-as-coronavirus-rages-1717149-2020-08-31. And, Ticketmaster has a blog on what to Expect in a Drive-In Concert (!): https://blog.ticketmaster.com/drive-in-concert-what-to-bring-info/
A variant of this concept could be done in partnership with the Cinema Partners and their awesome Video & Music systems– Live-streaming of global events – Sports, Entertainment – in cinema halls. Events that I talk about are the likes of Tomorrowland (hosted over 2 nights), Coldplay Concerts, Wimbledon Finals, Global New Year Celebrations (Times Square in Mumbai)… You get the drift!
When a new series (which I haven’t seen but only read about yet) called The Promised Neverland ended earlier this year in July 2020, Jacob Buchalter wrote these bits in his piece (https://www.cbr.com/promised-neverland-manga-ending-perfect-fell-short-comparison/): From the beginning, Emma's main goal/drive in life was to make sure the Grace Field kids were safe, escape from the Demon World, and keep everyone alive. And, for the most part, they did it. They all made it to the human world, all the kids are safe, there were only a few deaths, and Emma even remade the promise so no future kids would be treated as livestock ever again.
My thoughts above more or less reflect the same sentiment as that of Jacob. I am hopeful these initial set of ideas help the Malls today in their evolution towards becoming a ‘Multi-faceted Experience Hub’ away from a Traditional Shopping Destination. And, they are able to monetize these next generation opportunities, to make it back to the ‘Consumer’ world…