By Jacquie Severs
On an average day, West Edmonton Mall becomes the third largest “city” in Alberta by population. With an incredible 30 million visitors per year, the mall boasts a wide variety of stores, a water park, amusement park with roller coasters, night clubs and more. But you may already know that; West Edmonton Mall became famous for its unusual combination of retail and entertainment, and it will soon see an expansion with at least one new luxury anchor.
For years, many considered West Edmonton Mall to be unusual in how it included various non-shopping attractions. In recent years, however, the mall-as-entertainment concept is gaining momentum as the retail business model of the future. The current economy has created a new type of consumer -- one who is interested in experiences as well material goods. Many families are looking to make memories instead of having more toys, and fashionistas are craving a decadent shopping environment as much as the clothes themselves. While some reports state the attendance at average malls is decreasing by as much as 30%, the attendance at West Edmonton Mall has been steadily increasing over the last 8 years. And it’s not an accident; it’s the result of the perfect combination of retail and entertainment.
West Edmonton Mall is surely the first and best example of a retailtainment destination. Built in 1981, the mall was the largest in the world until 2004; it remains the largest in North America. The Mall of America in Minnesota followed in 1992, built by West Edmonton Mall's developer Triple Five Group. The concept at both destinations is entertainment and retail diversity. A visitor has numerous options for their visit — it could be a simple shopping trip; it could be a day at the spa. It could be a family day in the water park, or all of the above. Choice for the consumer helps to bring them to the destination over and over again, building loyalty and client satisfaction along the way. Retailtainment facilities attract not only local shoppers, but also tourists, resulting in a powerful economic impact on surrounding businesses.
Shopping Centre landlords across North America have taken notice and are adding entertainment anchors. This is partly in response to increased e-commerce, creating physical experiences unable to be replicated online. Lucky Strike Bowling Lanes are now in 20 malls, while LEGOLAND Discovery Centres are in 11 shopping centres. In Canada, both are at Vaughan Mills, just outside of Toronto.
On the smaller scale, the retailtainment concept is being applied to individual retail locations themselves, as stores add entertainment concepts to their merchandise mix. Consider how movie theatres have added arcades, improved dining experiences, lounges, and party rooms to their spaces. Bass Pro Shops have added archery ranges, aquariums and restaurants to their stores, creating complete outdoor enthusiast destinations. With over 400 stores worldwide, Build-A-Bear Workshop takes the concept of retailtainment to the heart of their business model, creating a unique experience for children that combines purchasing, play, and family time into one shop.
As the retailtainment trend gains momentum, West Edmonton Mall is looking to expand to meet demand from prospective tenants. Plans are underway and applications to the city have been entered for permits to allow an additional luxury department store, as well as 150,000 square feet of ancillary retail space and 800 additional parking spaces.
Triple Five Group CEO David Ghermezian tells the Edmonton Journal that a new wing on the south side of the mall will extend to 87th Avenue from Entrance 50, located on the mall's ground-floor. “It will be right out to the edge of the new LRT line coming to the mall," said Mr. Ghermezian. No word yet on which anchor will occupy the expansion, though sources say that it could be Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom or Bloomingdale's. Rumours persist that another upscale anchor could be added to another part of the mall, though details are unconfirmed. Mr. Ghermezian also indicated that various luxury brands will also be courted for the mall, joining recently opened locations for Tiffany & Co. and Kate Spade.
Now that retail combined with entertainment is the template for success, luxury retailers are looking to be placed within these hubs for consumer participation. They know that a destination like West Edmonton Mall, once an anomaly in the retail sphere, is now more than ever demonstrating the power of their retailtainment leadership.
Jacquie Severs is a marketing specialist that knows retail from boutique to wholesale within the home decor, fashion, and fine art industries. Educated at the School of Design at George BrownCollege, Toronto, Jacquie’s expertise in corporate branding, public relations, trend forecasting, and social media are sources of inspiration in her freelance writing appearances. Find Jacquie on linkedin at: ca.linkedin.com/in/jacquiesevers