An online seller checking customer orders. Image Credit: Agency

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will be characterised by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. It will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.

The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. It is disrupting almost every industry there is ... and this includes retail.

E-commerce, powered by advances in computing, has created an ecosystem that provides a completely personalised and frictionless consumer experience. People are seeking to discover a true sense of connection — more than just a place to shop and beyond a transactional relationship with the brands they love.

The advent of social media has given community a virtual dimension. Just as social media and mobile technology are transforming the retail experience, so too are they influencing how people experience the places they gather. In the future, the most effective destinations will factor the evolving uses of social media and smart technology into their design, to better communicate with consumers.

This shift has created an experience gap between online and offline services. One could even argue that, at present, online entities have the upper hand with their ability to respond to consumer needs a lot more efficiently, and in a shorter time. As a result, traditional retailers need to find innovative new ways to respond to these changing consumer demands and reinvent the consumer experience.

We have identified three main objectives that will challenge the status quo of shopping malls and act as a catalyst for evolution in digital age. These are: fusion of e-commerce with brick-and-mortar malls, building a community through synchronisation of digital and physical assets, and understanding and predicting consumer behaviour through data.

In short, we need to create a new retail concept — a fully digitally enabled smart shopping centre.

By fusing the e-commerce platforms with brick-and-mortar, we — the retail industry — will be able to cater to almost every consumer desire. Through leveraging the latest omni-channel data gathering techniques, analysis and insights generated by Big Data, we will be able to predict consumer needs and provide uniquely personalised content.

This, in turn, will lead to superior sales potential, an enhanced customer journey and personalised service, based on real-time, actionable insights into shopper behaviours and preferences. As the world is changing, so is our industry.

Shopping mall operators and retailers must embrace the latest technological advances to be able to respond to evolving consumer needs and create platforms and experiences that reflect the lifestyles and desires of their customers. In places that manage to do this, brands and people can form real and lasting bonds.

This is the mall of the future.

— Shane Eldstrom is CEO, Al Farwaniya Property Developments, the developer of Reem Mall in Abu Dhabi.