Driving the Shopping Malls, from Decline to Revival | Socium

The Shopping Mall Slump: Escalating Retail Traffic

Summary. Embracing community-centred activities and entertainment could be the key to rejuvenating Singapore’s ailing shopping centres.

For a 47-year-old shopping mall that had seen better days, Peace Centre, which shuttered its doors on 28th January 2024 did not go quietly into the night. The building had been acquired in an en-bloc sale of $650 million in 2021, and even before it was officially surrendered, it was given a six-month stay of execution in a bid to encourage community building. To do so, street artists performed at the mall, while vacant shops were used to house thrift stores, and even a horror house. Culminating in the PeaceOut festival, the event attracted more than 1,500 people, raving to beats from DJs. This chain of unexpected events offer a perspective on possible solutions to maintaining their relevance.

Peace Center | Socium
The once vibrant hub of nightlife, Peace Centre, is no more. (Source: Shutterstock)

The Decline of Shopping Malls

The steady decline of Singapore’s malls is evidenced not only in its oldest representatives. As pointed out by Joyce Lim of the Straits Times, a host of shopping malls along Orchard Road, also known as a premier shopping belt in Singapore, are witnessing similar fates:

“[Cineleisure Mall] has seen tenants move out one after another… The mall is near deserted.”

– Joyce Lim, Straits Times

The increasing insignificance of malls here should come as no surprise. E-commerce businesses like Shopee and Lazada have seemingly replaced many of the brick and mortar stores that were once the bedrock of shopping malls. You no longer need to take a trip out of the house and into a mall. It has been superseded by the convenience offered by a few taps on the keyboard and clicks of the mouse. Groceries, clothes, electronics, and the like, virtually every product which once required a physical excursion has been made available through online retail. Why bother going to the product when the product can find its way to you? This is to say nothing of international retailers like Amazon, AliExpress and Taobao, which provide Singaporeans with an avenue to an even wider range of goods. Sometimes, they come at even cheaper price points than local e-commerce platforms.

Online Shopping Has Replaced Traditional Malls | Socium
Online shopping has replaced traditional malls. (Source: Shutterstock)

E-commerce undoubtedly intensified the succession of traditional stores in shopping malls, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Lockdown regulations forced many stores to shut down. During this period, many Singaporeans turned to online shopping. A report by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) showed that following the easing of lockdown procedures,

“…proportions of online spending fell to levels that were lower than the peaks seen at the height of the pandemic during the Circuit Breaker period, but still higher than the levels seen before the pandemic in January 2020.”

– Economic Survey of Singapore 2022

While the situation isn’t as severe as it was during the peak of the pandemic, the move towards online retail is clearly a significant change.

Reviving Shopping Malls

With smaller retailers shifting towards online platforms to save on rent and operation costs, are we to be left only with malls offering high-end products? Think of the non-basement levels of ION Orchard, or Paragon Mall.

Our vision of the future of malls here need not be so bleak. Here are three strategies to which they could adapt in keeping themselves going.

Mixed-use Development

Shopping malls should no longer rely purely on retail for their profit margins and foot traffic. Instead, they should consider integrating a range of different activities to attract patrons. Take Funan Mall for instance. The mall plays host to several engaging activities for customers, including Climb Central, a space for rock-climbing and bouldering enthusiasts right at the centre of the mall; Lyfe, a co-living space perfect for a quick staycation getaway; WeWork, a co-working space where individuals can get out of the house and into a comfortable, air-conditioned space to work. These are but some ideas that malls could consider in order to sustain themselves in the post-pandemic era.

Crafting Community-centric Spaces

Like Peace Centre before its closure, shopping malls could use their spaces for building and sustaining a community. Our Tampines Hub is a prime example. Within the complex is a sports stadium that is not only for sporting games and matches, but also doubles as a space for community events. During festive periods such as Christmas and Mid-autumn Festival, and seasonal competitions, the football field transforms into a hub. This includes small businesses with pop-up stores, attractions like bouncy castles for children, and community performances. Its Festive Plaza also hosts free movie screenings and music shows for members of the community.

Experiential Retail and Entertainment

Malls can also boost foot traffic through the integration of experiences that cannot be replicated in online spaces, and these experiences require participants to physically be there. Class A Malls are such specific spaces and Jewel Changi Airport is one such example. The mall, located within Changi Airport, boasts, and has gained international recognition for, its indoor forest and waterfall. Smaller-scale malls can attempt to replicate similar experiences by establishing spaces like indoor theme parks – the long standing Wild Wild Wet of Downtown East, for example, or the wet-and-dry playground with battery-powered ride-on cars at VivoCity.

Vivo City Shopping Mall | Socium
Pedal boats at VivoCity’s wet-and-dry playground. (Source: Shutterstock)

In the face of shifting consumer preferences, shopping malls in Singapore must continue to adapt if they want to remain relevant, and perhaps return to the hotspots that they had once stood for. The adoption of these strategies could possibly allow them to become destinations that offer notjust a shopping experience, but also spaces for community and cultural exchange. The efforts that went into making the last days of Peace Centre a fun and memorable experience might well signal a revival of Singapore’s malls. But the ball, so to speak, is at the mall’s court.

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