At Brandcourage, we’ve done quite a lot of brand and design development in the property industry across Southeast Asia and Asia – from mega shopping malls, residential developments to industrial parks. Through all of this, we’ve spoken to many brilliant people in the industry, been involved from the initiation to launch of property projects, and ultimately, gained invaluable insight.
Covid-19 has brought about an unprecedented wave of uncertainty and hardship for almost every industry. The non-essential retail industry has suffered tremendously, especially with brick-and-mortar sales as customer confidence and spending continue to decline amid a global recession. This pandemic has pushed the consideration of existential issues to the forefront – what are we shopping for?
As much destruction as the pandemic has brought about, it has also made clear that the current economic system of incessant production is unsustainable. People are becoming more courageous in their choices of rejecting materialistic ideas of life, and a return to a more measured and harmonious way of life can be seen as people look to maintaining their health, well-being and community. There will be a fundamental shift in how people decide the world should be structured, and in this newsletter we will explore what we think this will mean for retail and shopping centres.
Shopping centres, especially those outside of suburban areas, can no longer survive by offering simple, transactional retail experiences – think about all the recent closures of major department stores. The alternative for the past few years has been an increased focus on an expanded experience focused on lifestyle and mixed-use spaces; a great example of this is Singapore’s newly opened Funan IT Mall. It has been touted as one of the most forward-thinking retail spaces in Singapore, where customers are enticed not only by the amazing design of stalls, but also by options such as a rock-climbing wall and cycling path within the mall itself. It is also a multi-use space, with co-living apartments and offices integrated into its infrastructure.
However, we cannot forget that the world has been irrevocably altered by Covid-19, and not as many people and businesses can afford to partake in high-octane experiences offered by malls like Funan. Even with landlords slashing rent prices of retail spaces and churning out offer after offer, it still cannot change the fact that there will be more and more people looking for alternative value in visiting a shopping mall.
This is where Brandcourage believes developers and retailers need to make a crucial change – stop only looking at increasing their profit margins, and start working themselves into the daily lives of people. This means that you would have to give access to more people than usual by driving towards affordability and moving away from just selling. Of course, this is an idealistic thought, but we did warn you in the title that these would be courageous thoughts.
Affordability means less profit, yes, but hear us out, it’s not that bad. True innovation means taking a risk, and the new world we are entering into has become more aware that innovation is not directly related to profit-making. The more people can afford to enter spaces, and the more spaces become less about spending and more about experiencing, the more retail spaces will evolve and thrive.
As people start to emerge from lockdowns and sweat out their cabin fevers, it’s evident that we as human beings cannot survive without community and human interaction. Above all, shopping centres in city centres have seen an influx of people looking to gather and reconnect. However, shopping malls can be more than just that, instead of just being a transient place where you meet your friends, it can be a place that nurtures community.
JUMPA @ Sungei Wang in Kuala Lumpur is a space that has attempted this. We are extremely proud and excited to have worked for such a forward-thinking entity on their brand identity. Sungei Wang was an old shopping centre, and though loved by many, it had to think of a new way of interacting with customers or be left behind in a few more years. In 2019, JUMPA was created, which is an annex block that was built to cater to a younger crowd that would have more exciting experiences, other than shopping, and change Sungei Wang into a multi-use space. We came up with the name “Jumpa”, which in Malay means “meet”, because ultimately, the mall had evolved so far beyond shopping to become the place for people to meet new people, make new connections and form a stronger community. The mall had taken the time to listen to the surrounding community and cater to them.
The experience of a shopping mall doesn’t just start and stop when you enter and exit, it begins when you first behold its exterior – architecture is art. We believe that the only way forward is to create beautiful buildings that are sustainable and exist harmoniously with nature. A pioneering architectural firm WOHA based in Singapore, who we have the pleasure of calling our friends, create some of the most incredibly innovative, mesmerising and eco-friendly buildings in Singapore and Southeast Asia.
However, just having a sustainable building isn’t enough, you need to fill it up with activities and retailers that are aligned with the same cause. This means that all entities need to work together, from architects, developers to brand agencies, in order to create a coherent and consistent purpose and message that will ensure sustainability is ingrained into every nook and cranny of the building, and is not just an empty promise. WOHA created an aspirational retail space that ticks all the boxes for us – Design Orchard. Firstly, it was built to support emerging Singaporean designers who may not have the budget for retail spaces in larger shopping centres. It is a multi-concept building that has an amphitheatre built into the rooftop garden with a focus on letting in natural light. It was not just the building that was sustainable and green, but the very fact that it looked to supporting the local little guys in the retail world was truly future-oriented.
At Brandcourage, we believe that being courageous means wanting a better future for all, and that means striving for more and not settling with the status quo. We push our clients to seek out their true value and purpose, especially those in the retail property industry.
Is this a future that you would like to see for shopping centres?