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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2702

Slow Death of Shopping Malls: an ominous sign of a retail apocalypse

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

The pictures of deserted malls, empty shelves and the inevitable ghostly silence that stems from them, both in the UK and the US, in recent months in general and on Black Friday in particular, clearly indicate the fact that they are just like living beings – failing to break free from birth-death cycle, with a limited life span.

In West London, where I live, there are a few, relatively big malls which are about to be subject to the unfortunate phenomenon that spreads across the Western world. It is no different in major cities like Edinburgh, Swansea and Nottingham.

It’s far worse in the United States, according to the latest statistics, despite the economic boom. Even a website has been dedicated to update the latest casualties as and when it happens.

As expected, it is not difficult to spot the oasis of the scapegoats in a deserted landscape – the internet. In fact, you see a herd of them and the politicians, mall owners and those who lose their jobs do not struggle to identify the big bull among them – Amazon.

There is no doubt that powerful online retailers have certainly changed our shopping habits and it, in turn, took its toll on the shopping malls.

Having been burdened by ever growing rents, wages, pension liabilities and taxes, most of the malls have been compelled to hire staff on contract basis in order to minimize the losses, perhaps underestimating the influence of loyalty factor of long-serving employees; it was a square plug in a round hole – in the long run.

A friend of mine who was closely involved at technical level in a major mall, belonging to a major chain in the UK, told me recently how hiring agency staff accelerated the decline of the particular mall in a matter of few months; these individuals are not motivated to work to salvage the brand name; on the contrary, they just want to make a living, when there is an opportunity to do so.

Despite the gravity of the situation, some key operators of these malls still think that they can turn around these places by resorting to trivial slogans or meaningless advertising, instead of innovative thinking coupled with bold decision making.

History shows us how the combination of complacency and delusional thinking formed disastrous mixtures to bring down organizations, political systems and even empires.

Meanwhile, key online players, like Amazon, are cruising ahead with unique strategies while nurturing the concept of customer care at its core; Amazon does not seem to be fond of sloganeering.

It’s unbelievable how Amazon revolutionized our lives in a matter of two decades: its Kindle reader, for instance, took the reading experience to a new level, making the need of printed copies fairly redundant; buying a book or renting a book takes only a few minutes online, thanks to Kindle and the existence of Kindle store.

In addition, Alexa, the smart speaker, is offering us plenty of services without the need of moving even a finger - with simple voice commands: they range from getting the instant weather report to ordering a shopping list.

Despite the meteoric rise, ever growing tentacles of retail influences, and the brand name that is almost synonymous with online shopping, Jeff Bezos, the creator of Amazon, said recently that Amazon was not too big to fail.

In short, despite the unbelievable success, he is fully aware of the dangers that lie ahead, which Amazon could potentially face in future, something that the operators of struggling big malls did not see in advance – few years ago.

The accelerated rate of closure of big malls clearly shows that mall operators are losing the battle. No struggling mall has come up with an innovative plan to set an example for the rest in the same league to follow.

It is not just they, who look down into the precipice of doom; hundreds of thousands of employees, their families and dependents, myriads of supply chains and above all government coffers are slowly becoming sitting ducks when arrows of devastating consequences start flying around.

- Asian Tribune -

Slow Death of Shopping Malls: an ominous sign of a retail apocalypse
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