Mixed Use, Clear Profits | Director

Will Higham looks at the cross-sector opportunities that’ll arise if shopping centres become ‘live, work, play’ centres.

I was speaking at a shopping centre conference in Texas last week. As usual at such events, there was much heated debate. Does e-commerce spell the end of bricks and mortar? How much will IoT, AR and VR really impact retail environments? But there was one issue everyone was agreed on. The future of the shopping mall – and by implication the High Street – in US, Europe and Asia, will be all about ‘mixed use’.

Malls and High Streets can no longer thrive on shops alone. The rise of e-commerce, and a shift away from purchase and ownership towards experiences and access-ship, is reducing the amount people are spending instore. As a result, retail sites are moving into non-traditional areas.

They’ve begun expanding their food courts into destinations in themselves. Some in Asia now promote themselves as food courts with shops attached. Leisure too is starting to play a much greater part. Aside from cinemas, malls are bringing in concert venues, sports halls, museums and theme parks.

Next step is a shift from leisure to lifestyle. ‘Live, Work, Play’ is the new mantra for retail spaces. New malls are being built to include residential space. Group housing with shops so close will be a strong driver for convenience- and community-loving Millennials. Meanwhile, as the growth of freelancing creates more demand for shared work spaces, offices are being added to the mix. And with aging Boomers starting to move back into city centres, they’ll look to include healthcare facilities too.

All of this has clear business implications, not just for retail, but across a huge range of industries. As shopping centres and High Streets look to expand their offering, companies involved in the leisure, food, healthcare, residential and workspace sectors will need to get pro-actively involved, to ensure they’re part of the browsing mix. Plus, as consumers spend more of their time in these new Work, Live, Play centres, there’ll be a demand for a support network of ancillary industries.

The trend has positive implications for local government and community too. Many commentators are rightly worried that mass shop closures in malls and High Streets will have negative implications for local areas. But mixed use offers a solution. Combining shopping, leisure, working and residential (alongside community centres), it will create a new village: a communal ecosystem that can potentially benefit everyone.