Virtual Shopping Centres – The Future?

I couldn’t believe it today as I popped into my local town.  It was already a nightmare, queues of cars to then find the car park is full, people everywhere and yet there is supposed to be a recession on!  The Christmas shopping period has definitely begun.  As I paid my pound an hour for car parking (the internet equivalent of postage free with a spend of over five pounds in Sainsburys! just like Amazon) I was reminded of a link I saw the other day to a virtual shopping mall.

This got me thinking, in the future will virtual shopping malls (I hate the Americanisation “Mall” but it is used on so many of the UK sites too!) grow to become mainstream ways of shopping.  I had a look round and have listed two sites which try to replicate the “Shopping centre experience” below with my thoughts.

Firstly why would virtual shopping centres be necessary –

  • To help consumers discover new places to shop online
  • To provide comparison shopping
  • To provide Retail Theatre
  • To save time – rather than going to 20 retailers go to one online mall

Mallplace

Mallplace heralds itself as the new way to shop.  Its floors are created around themes.  The “Its all about you” floor is then split into 7 other sub floors, and then sub sub floors! lets try Fashion, Mens Fashion.  I’m then given the options, high street pink, high street blue, designer and Online stores.  I don’t know what pink and blue mean so lets have a look at Designer.

Mall Place
Mall Place

A flash window comes up enabling you to scroll from left to right as if you are standing stationary and looking around.  When you click on a store it comes up filling the screen with basic details about the company, current offers and similar stores.

Hugo Boss
Hugo Boss

My Thoughts

While this mall has been beautifully created it doesn’t engage you to browse as you would a real shopping centre.  From the first image you can see there is possibly too much trying to grab your attention at once.  Also if you don’t know the brand/store you are unlikely to click on it.  It is a really well made site though not something I would use because of the time it takes to browse.  I just want to get to products instantly.

My Mall

My Mall is a very similar site so I won’t spend much time repeating what I have written for Mallplace.  Where MyMall is different is the look and feel.  It is much cleaner and more professional looking.  An easier interface laid out as a ring so as you walk through it you pass every store,

My Mall
My Mall

Similarly to Mallplace you click on a store and it takes you directly to their homepage.

My Thoughts

From a design standpoint I love both of these sites but just cannot see myself ever using them, I don’t want to waste my time browsing a virtual mall, I would just prefer a text list of hand picked links sorted by category.

How can Virtual shopping centres have a future?

But I think this format could be really good if applied to real life shopping centres.  Think of the new Westfield shopping centre in London.  It hasn’t been open long but has a reputation as an affluent, aspirational brands shopping centre.  They have a good standard shopping directory website organised by theme though with no links to the retailer’s online site (it surprises me the retail tenants don’t insist on this!).  Hearing on the news that the local streets are full of traffic and the centre is really busy it puts me off visiting.  What if I could virtually visit the mall.  If the virtual mall principle was applied to a real shopping centre it could widen the customer base of the centre.  Customers who live miles away who wouldn’t visit could shop the centre online.  Customers who want to visit could plan their visit more efficiently.  Or if I visited and then thought of something else I needed I could pop onto their site and find a online store which sold it.

Why would a customer want to shop this centre online but not the Mallplace I then asked myself, because as a real shopping centre it provides a key “hand picked” and trusted selection of store choices, whereas My Mall floods you with over 30 levels of stores.

Taking one step back I will summarise by saying that I do not believe “truly virtual” shopping malls will take off in the future, because they do not entertain or involve you and they tend to have every commision paying retailer rather than a hand picked selection of “tenants”.  However I would be very interested to see a real shopping centre try this principle, when based on a real centre I think this will draw people in to browse and could add sales.

Apologies if their are other great virtual centres out there, this is just what I found on Google.  Drop a comment with other sites you use!

What are your views, can the traditional mall convert itself to the web in a similar format?  How do you find new online retailers to buy from?  Do you like the 3D browsing or just prefer a list of retailers / products?  Leave a comment!

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