Shopping malls in the post-COVID-19 era

The measures taken to control the spread of COVID-19 have significantly affected several economic sectors on a global level.  Without a doubt, the retail sector has been hit particularly hard.  The pandemic has kept clients away from big shopping malls, the spaces that set the standard in retail over the last few decades.  While shopping malls must stick to maximum capacity limits and control the flow of people, clients have found the perfect refuge online. Necessity accelerated this change, which had already become a trend before the pandemic.

All of this is resulting in changes on a design level in shopping malls.  Outdoor spaces, easy to clean materials that ensure the safety of clients, and regulating the flow of people are some of the things that will define the future of these spaces.  We’ve analysed how malls will be able to survive in the post-COVID era.

Reinventing themselves again

“In the short term, what we will see is a reorientation of existing spaces in order to make them more flexible, so that they can quickly adapt to different uses and regulations depending on the evolution of the virus,” explains Marar Nogueira from Cimbra ArquitectosThe big chains are the ones that will best be able to face these changes, because they are more financially solid than smaller companies.

Marar also says that shopping malls are trying to activate “all of the possible options for buying”.  “For example, implementing online purchases with in-store pick-up has been talked about for years, but now, with the pandemic, it’s become necessary as a way to slow down the exponential growth of e-commerce,” she says.

This vision is shared by Carmen Bango from Broadway Malyan.  Shopping malls have no choice but to reinvent themselves in order to survive.  “With the competition created by e-commerce, which was already taking hold before the pandemic, as well as the predicted popularity that local businesses are expected to gain due to COVID-19, the challenge facing shopping malls is the need to reinvent themselves once again.  And I’m sure they will do it.  They will organise the space so that it’s safe and they will continue to offer experiences, leisure, and much more than the simple opportunity to purchase a product at a counter,” Bango says.

In the medium-term, all signs point to the fact that new shopping malls will prioritise outdoor spaces.  “These will be spaces with roofs, but they will still be outdoors.  People won’t mind wearing a few extra layers if it means they can enjoy a space where they can socialise,” says Marar.  “There will be more and more outdoor terraces and events.  This is where malls that already have open spaces will have an advantage,” says Carmen.


New materials and new technology

The idea of making shopping feel safe is evident in every project related to shopping malls. Materials and technology will play a key role in the development of this idea.  Carmen says that we will see more “modern materials that are easy to disinfect and the use of technology to organise movement and turns in stores, which will make the experience feel more exclusive.  Less porous elements that are very easy to clean will be used, which is why there is a huge emphasis being placed on research, development, and innovation by companies and manufacturers that support the retail world,” says Marar.