The Shopping Mall: Then, Now and The Future

At the inception, a shopping mall was a simply structured space that provided a one-stop-shop for household commodities and other retail items. Today, the function, design and overall purpose of the shopping mall as vastly changed. Walk through the evolution of the shopping mall, from what it has been to what it is now and what it will be in the future.



  • Typically anchored by large department stores at either end of the building
  • Atrium ceilings to bring a sense of the outside, in and replicate a the feeling of a high street shopping strip but rarely any outdoor space is available for use
  • Contained one traditional food court which was a place for people to socialise and extend their dwell time, an innovation for shopping malls at the time
  • Generally surrounded by sprawling car parks and undercover garages to allow all customer types to shop conveniently
  • Most malls of the past were suburban and therefore, largely accessed by cars with low walkability and public transport options
Chadstone Shopping Centre, Melbourne in 1965  image via Victorian Places

Chadstone Shopping Centre, Melbourne in 1965 image via Victorian Places



  • People are enjoying a more flexible food model and disregarding the traditional food court to favour more segmented food clusters. Today’s mall has food options ranging from mid-market through to high-end dining.
  • The outside is being brought in with more natural spaces being designed that include outdoor space
  • Unleased space is used for pop-ups or incubators to market global brands, present growing retailers and provide food experiences throughout the mall.
  • New technology such as interactive maps are being used to improve the customer journey and allow for a more immersive experience.
  • Today’s mall has a community aspect providing space for local initiatives, farmers markets, concerts and other events to be held
  • Technology is being embraced as a way to provide a two-touchpoint mode of accessing the mall’s offer with ‘click and collect’ shopping being a major opportunity for increasing spend but also improving visitation
The Dubai Mall with over 1200 stores including world class food outlets  image via Parvezish

The Dubai Mall with over 1200 stores including world class food outlets image via Parvezish

Food, Hospitality and Entertainment are central in driving the modern mall to become a “Lifestyle Destination” of choice; a mixed use development that is made up of beautiful spaces and delicious food and beverage choices. We use to photograph building, we now photograph food, because it looks so good.
— Francis Loughran, Future Food's Managing Director


Looking forward…

There have been major changes in the way our malls are designed, programmed and anchored with a move towards a more dynamic space that takes advantage of strategic retail and hospitality masterplanning, allows for an experiential visit and remains relevant as a place for people to come, enjoy and shop.

We will continue to see our major and mini malls be more accessible via multiple transport options whether it’s specific public transport lines, bike paths or being within walking distance of high-density population areas. We will also see malls move away from being solely retail-focussed and include co-working spaces, housing and civic spaces.

A big change that has already started to occur is that the mall of the future will be anchored by experience and food. There will be more food halls, pop ups, urban farms, cooking schools and more and these will be programmed to change according to the day part and season. Food events will take on a new meaning with more people wanting to explore cultures through food markets and events. We have definitely learnt that people do not experience much in the space of an old, tired food court.  

The proposed urban farm at Burwood Brickworks, Melbourne  image via Frasers Property

The proposed urban farm at Burwood Brickworks, Melbourne image via Frasers Property

Tech will be seamlessly integrated into malls with functions such as ‘click and collect’ to be available for shoppers to collect in seconds. Customers will be able to scroll through their phone and purchase food, tickets and other retail items to then receive notifications for when they can go to the outlet and collect their item. More than this, malls will be able to benefit from tech enhancements as it will allow for data gathering and greater insight into customer habits, purchase paths, preferences and more. Technology will also smooth out the purchasing process which will make spending easier and increase gains across all retail sectors.

What we cannot highlight more is that malls are evolving. There is a substantial momentum behind the development of these spaces to provide an experience to people who want to visit them. Retail’s challenge is remaining relevant and creating enhanced, connected and enjoyable retail hubs is a way to overcome this. We look forward to watching the future of retail centres and shopping malls continue to evolve and to be part of one of the most important parts of this evolution, the food and hospitality experience.

Credits - Cover image of Daxing Exhibition Centre, Beijing via Latitude