Malls are still relevant in the apparel sector but must do more to stand out from the crowd

Brick-and-mortar retail may be facing stiff competition from e-commerce but, according to a study from Valassis Research, malls still have a fighting chance in the apparel sector and can get ahead with new technologies and services that differentiate them from their rivals.

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The study, which surveyed 1,000 US consumers who had visited an indoor mall more than three times in the past year, found that 60% preferred to shop for apparel in malls, largely because doing so allowed them to try on and compare clothing. 39% of those surveyed preferred malls because they could visit multiple retailers in one destination. 

Other advantages highlighted by respondents included the fact that going to the mall could be a social event – cited by 24% of those surveyed–, convenience when shopping for last-minute gifts (20%), the possibility to combine shopping with other activities such as dining and entertainment (19%) and the ability to compare prices across different stores. 

Conversely, 40% of respondents pointed out that e-commerce platforms were preferable because they often offer a broader range of products, while 38% favored online shopping to avoid crowds and a further 24% because it means they don't have to travel. 

Nonetheless, among those surveyed 59% stated that they could be tempted into malls with the promise of savings and discounts, and 20% said that improved parking facilities and services such as valet parking were convincing arguments in a shopping destination's favor. 18% mentioned experiences and events such as pop-ups and giveaways as an attractive proposition that malls could make. 

Overall, the study established that, along with savings, convenience was an important factor in a consumer's decision to shop at a mall or not, but also found that what this actually translated to in terms of expectations varied from shopper to shopper.

For 24% of survey respondents, for example, convenience meant short waiting times and an easy check-out, while 21% liked the fact that they could take the product home straight away, rather than waiting for a delivery. Customer service (18%) and the ability to return (13%) or pick up (11%) online purchases in stores were also mentioned as convenient advantages of mall shopping. 

"Consumers want convenience, product options and incentives and all brick-and-mortar retailers, especially malls, need to understand their audience so they can provide an experience that makes visiting worthwhile," explains Curtis Tingle, chief marketing officer at Valassis, on the firm's website. "Whether that’s offering more discounts, valet parking or incorporating in-store technology, it’s all about catering to customers’ preferences and differentiating the in-store and online experiences."

Indeed, technology in particular was identified as a space in which malls could be doing more to differentiate themselves from their competitors. While 24% of those surveyed had dealt with cashier-less checkouts in malls, 51% had never encountered any truly innovative new technologies aiming to improve the in-store experience. 

In any case, with try-before-you-buy services such as Amazon's recently launched Prime Wardrobe gaining traction on e-commerce platforms, it looks like malls won't be able to rely on the fact that they allow customers to try on clothes as a point of differentiation in the apparel sector for much longer. To prepare for the future, these traditional retail destinations therefore need to multiply and diversify innovations capable of improving shopper convenience and dragging consumers away from their computers. 

The results of the "How Malls Should Evolve to Attract Shoppers" study can be consulted in more detail on Valassis' website. 

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