The American Dream & The Evolution of Retail

Brittany Chaffee

01 November 2019

American Dream

Photo Courtesy; American Dream

It’s not true that physical retail is dying. But it is true that retail has changed.

People don’t buy clothing and consumer goods like they used to. The internet and purchasing convenience (cough cough - Amazon) has caused a shift in the process - and consumers want and need different things.

Companies need to be aware of this change. Most importantly, they need to make the change, too. Proof is in the retail pudding. Consider Target, for example. According to Yahoo News, Target’s stock is at an ‘all-time high.’ Why? Beyond the quality of brand, Target creates a space people want to be in – experiencing constant remodels for a more pleasant consumer experience (i.e. new lights, fresh floors, updated grocery, music). Target has also considered the importance of “going small” by adding “mini” locations on college campuses and urban areas. To compete with Amazon, Target added “ship-to-store” options. And the retail chain is always reinventing its private label brands to fill the gaps left by big companies that didn’t make the effort, like Sports Authority and Toys “R” Us.

So, when we think about what malls are doing to thrive, would “getting even bigger” surprise you?

Initially, yes. But what if we said malls are thriving because of the experiences they keep?

The American Dream, the newest mega mall that just opened in New Jersey believes in the quality of experience. According to Forbes, it’s the next step in the evolution of retail. More than $5 billion dollars of investments (and two bankruptcies) went into the first stage of creating the American Dream mall. The twist? 55% of the 5-billion-dollar space is allocated purely to entertainment. Only 45% is devoted to retail.


Photo Courtesy: American Dream

What does this burst of experiential savviness prove? People crave opportunities to make memories. Consumers want to share their story - whether it's online to the masses or with their friends. The physical spaces within retail are quickly realizing that their audiences are driven into stores not because of material items to buy but for the feeling the experience gives them. They want to have a fun exploration and an adventure to take home. There’s no turning back for malls now. In the future, retail will all be about moments spent. Even more importantly, the American Dream mall doesn't only want to attract the locals. They want this place to become a major attraction for New York-area tourists. The story needs to be shared across the world.

"It’s not conventional mall-thinking."

Here are the quick “entertainment features” that are included at American Dream:

  • Nickelodeon-themed park (like our very own Mall of America)
  • NHL-sized ice rink (that holds 2,400 spectators)
  • A Dreamworks-related water park with the largest wave pool in the world (cabanas designed by Jonathan Adler)
  • A ski hill that holds 500 people
  • Luxury movie theatre
  • 300-foot observation wheel overlooking Manhattan
  • Legoland
  • Two 18-hole mini golf courses
  • An aquarium

How do retail brands bring this experience small-scale? In order to truly drive traffic, don’t attract people with shopping as the core goal. Some ideas:

  • Create a lifestyle experience within the store (whether it’s with a local coffee shop, donut shop, or wine bar).
  • Build an experience consumers can take back home with them (photo booth experience with purchase, for example).
  • If your product is something people can experience on their own, create stations for them to do that! Perhaps you’re a clothing brand – include the materials consumers can touch and feel. For toy stores, have an area kids can color and draw.
  • Physical and digital should work together. An e-commerce site should work with the real, physical retail space. In-store pick up and quick and easy research to understand product will enhance any retail experience. In fact, consider bringing the website inside the store so people can see variants of what you may not have in-store.
  • Make the checkout experience effortless. Maybe consumers can checkout their items on an app.
  • Build a community! Host events to let consumers know that the store is a place for inspiration.  Human to human interaction does just that.
  • Always have reinvention top of mind. Understand what makes shoppers come into your stores. It won’t be easy but keeping change in mind is always key.

The future is this: the retail experience has changed dramatically. The companies that embrace change and invest in the physical experience, rise to the top.


Have any questions about what we do at STAR? Want to talk experiential marketing? We're happy to chat with you. Contact us here.

Brittany Chaffee


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