We recently came across an interesting shopping destination in London called Boxpark. Boxpark is an outdoor mall comprised of pop-up retailers housed in shipping container-style boxes. The outdoor pop-up mall also includes unique food vendors and a rooftop dining patio for Millennial foodies. Boxpark has created an omni-channel experience for their customers in the form of their Boxpark Marketplace, where you can shop online or in-store, have product delivered or be picked up, or order online while you’re in-store.
Boxpark seems to have the omni-channel customer figured out. Can the outdoor pop-up mall format work in North America?
Are Malls Still Relevant?
The retail brands, the food experience, the types of events and the Boxpark brand identity are all clearly targeted to a Millennial audience. This could be the shopping mall of the future. Research shows that malls are still frequented by Millennials, but more as a social gathering place, rather than a shopping destination. Currently, malls don’t provide the shopping experience that Millennials crave. Many malls have added enhanced food offerings, recognizing this as an important draw for Millennials, but they haven’t done much to improve the actual shopping experience. As a result, retail foot traffic and sales are not significantly increased despite other traffic-drawing improvements to the mall.
In Toronto, Canada, for example, the Eaton Centre and Yorkdale Mall are the city’s premier malls. Beyond the standard chain stores that the Millennials are now shunning (Aeropostale, Abercrombie & Fitch), as well as stores that Millennials would never step foot in (Tiffany’s), they offer no unique shopping experiences. The Eaton Centre’s biggest innovation has been the Urban Eatery food court that purported to offer more interesting and ethnically diverse food, with real dishes and cutlery. However, it is up for debate as to whether they delivered on their promise.
Also consider Singapore’s Westgate mall, which houses an 11,000 square foot outdoor playground in the mall’s Family Zone on the fourth floor. The playground, called Westgate Wonderland, is open to shoppers for free and has become a popular destination for parents and children during and after their shopping journey. Like the Eaton Centre, however, the retail offerings in the rest of the mall have remained much the same, offering the same products at the same stores without innovating beyond their family-based playground.
What Makes Boxpark So Great?
1. It’s fresh.
The appeal of Boxpark is found in its participating retailers, which are mostly smaller independent brands with unique or exclusive goods. Millennials don’t want what everyone else has, so Boxpark delivers. Since the nature of pop-up retail is temporary, the mall gets a fresh look as retailers come and go. There is always something new to draw shoppers in. And since Boxpark Marketplace makes it easy to shop on their terms, Millennials will actually spend some money at this mall!
2. It’s in a great neighbourhood.
The mantra in retail (before e-commerce) has been “location, location, location”. Boxpark wins here as well. Located in the trendy Shoreditch district of London, Boxpark benefits from the halo of hip-ness the area represents. The district organically draws the type of shopper Boxpark appeals to.
3. It’s targeted for a specific consumer.
Boxpark is not trying to be all things to all people. So many malls work to add more and more merchants in an effort to draw in any consumer. Through their outdoor pop-up mall, Boxpark has curated a group of merchants who will appeal to local consumers. Curious consumers are drawn there if they fit the demographic. Boxpark doesn’t worry that the concept doesn’t work for everyone.
What Does It Take To Succeed?
If you’re a mall developer looking for a fresh concept, an outdoor pop-up mall like Boxpark may work. In order to succeed, this kind of concept requires carefully curating the participating pop-up retailers, being committed to changing retailers often, finding a neighbourhood in an urban market that is on the edge of gentrification, and creating a fun brand identity. And building a retail brand with omni-channel as a driving force will definitely get you a step ahead of traditional, stodgy malls!