The mall is dead. Long live…well, a different mall.
Retail consultants and strategists Lewis and Dart chart three periods of commercial history. The first was an era of pent-up real demand; the second featured abundance and the generation of wants made into needs; the third—well, whatever it is we’re living in now, when “consumers have grown accustomed to an instantaneous and unlimited selection of virtually anything they might dream of.” The problem for retailers is that our collective tastes have changed. Spoiled rotten, we demand “experience” when we shop, so that a visit to Trader Joe’s or Victoria’s Secret—take your pick—becomes a pampering of the senses as much as an opportunity to stock up on pot stickers or bras. Some retailers are not equipped to handle the rigors of what the authors call “experiential superiority,” to say nothing of “superior value-chain control.” At some unspecified point in the near future, Lewis and Dart predict that half of retailers and brands are going to disappear, to be replaced by companies that have somehow engineered their way around the “traditional retail/wholesale business model.” Writing with numerous bulleted lists, the authors outline the qualities and characteristics that they believe the winners in this Darwinian struggle will share—and, it would seem, many of those winners will be Chinese. Some of their conclusions seem very well backed by solid evidence; on the last point, for instance, they point to one Chinese apparel maker’s recent acquisition of 16 American brands. Other conclusions seem more speculative. If rats are drenched in dopamine while exploring new sections of the maze, does that really translate to humans taking great pleasure in finding a new store—particularly when “future consumers are going to be ‘wired,’ but only to what they choose to be wired to”?
Whatever the case, the authors bring solid credentials to their forecast of the coming retail landscape, and they provide plenty of interesting material for readers on both sides of the cash register.