Patio & Hearth Blog

from Patio and Hearth Products Report

Not Your Parents’ Mall (or Store)

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Carol_Photoby Carol Daus

When I was in the Twin Cities a month ago visiting my daughter, she took me to a shopping mall in Edina, Minnesota, that caught my attention. Opened in 1956, the venerable Southdale Center was the nation’s first indoor shopping mall, and like many aging malls around the country, it recently completed a multi-million-dollar facelift with a fresh array of stores.

It still has the usual anchor stores like Macy’s and J.C. Penney, but the majority of its retailers appeal to Gen X’ers and Millennials, such as H&M, J. Crew, and the Apple Store (which on the day I visited had a long line of mostly young customers waiting to buy the iPhone 6).

This mix of youth-oriented stores makes sense, since consumers between 18 and 34 years old are expected to displace the baby boomers as the nation’s biggest buying group before the next decade. I guess that’s why the piped-in music of the new Southdale Center features Katy Perry songs, not the elevator music that used to play in shopping malls when I was a kid. For techno-savvy customers, Southdale offers the Simon Mobile Shopper Club, a collection of apps featuring coupons, fashion tips, and store alerts.

While out in the parking lot, I noticed that construction workers were putting the finishing touches on an attractive multi-unit apartment complex. It turns out that Simon Malls, owner of the property, had transformed a former parking lot of Southdale Center into this development, built just steps away from the reinvented mall. One Southdale Place was just featured in the Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2014, ( as part of a growing trend throughout the United States to reinvent shopping malls as town centers with homes, parks, and offices all within walking distance of shopping and restaurants.

When I returned home to Orange County, California, it dawned on me that this was happening in my own community. Just a several miles from my house, Huntington Beach’s Bella Terra Shopping Center has pedestrian pathways that are connected to new apartments (targeted to Gen X’ers and Millennials), as well as offices, shops, movie theaters, and restaurants. And several miles down the 405 freeway from Bella Terra, a groundbreaking ceremony recently took place in Irvine for a new mini metropolis of homes, recreational venues, businesses, schools, stores, research and development facilities, and entertainment sites–all within a short distance of each other.

Research has shown that younger consumers prefer multi-functional living spaces and that lot size is less important than the location of the lot. Young people (and even many older people) prefer living near shopping, entertainment, and work. It’s no mystery that housing developments are springing up adjacent to walkable shopping environments.

When young consumers aren’t shopping online and actually venture into malls and free-standing stores, their habits and preferences are worth noting.

Experiential Shopping: This generation, raised with Starbucks and Apple, prefers shopping for big-ticket items that feature a social connection with both store personnel, as well as other customers. Promoting human connections can go a long way in boosting your business. Take for example Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar, California. This outdoor-living retailer brings in popular food trucks on weekends for customers. The store’s owners recognize that customers linger longer (and buy more) when they can munch on Korean-fusion food or tasty tacos in a festive shopping environment.

Speed Shopping: Ironically, even though young consumers crave social connections, they also are multi-taskers who put a premium on convenience. They know that they can receive products quickly on Amazon Prime, so it’s paramount to respond to these customers quickly, whether providing product information or shipping furniture for an upcoming backyard event.

Price-conscious Shopping: For Millennials and Gen X’ers impacted by the Great Recession and hefty college loans, value trumps quality. In addition to preferring modern designs, they don’t view furniture as an investment passed down to generations. They like smaller, more portable pieces, compared to their parents.

Like it or not, Gen X’ers and Millennials are here to start spending, and shrewd mall owners, retailers, product manufacturers, and real estate developers are ramping up to greet them!

Carol Daus is the editor of Patio & Hearth Products Report.

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