Once relegated to the backburner, many shopping centers are revamping their play areas to entice shoppers and keep them from defecting to the internet.
According to the Wall Street Journal, malls are struggling under a combination of decades of overbuilding and encroachment from online shopping. Instead of meager sanctioned areas, shopping centers are responding with sprawling play areas, with some even topping 2,000 square feet. Play area sales have grown from a little less than $500,000 in 2000 to $12 million this year, industry participants say.
In addition, more malls are adding restaurants and services like hair salons and fitness clubs, providing a one-stop destination that the internet can’t.
“[Malls]no longer can afford to be just landlords. They have to be place makers, the little something extra that gets someone to drive past another mall to come to yours,” says Paco Underhill, founder and CEO of Envirosell Inc., consultants for mall owners and retailers.
The new trend is catering to all ages, not just little kids. Some mall owners are experimenting with play areas for older children, testing out play areas stocked with puzzles and touch-screen games tailored to 6-10 year olds who have outgrown the appeal of the jungle-gym-esque play areas. Charging stations and Wi-Fi is available as an adult convenience at many places.
The play stations are designed strategically to ease parent’s worries. They are typically enclosed with only one entrance to prevent wanderings. Play areas are placed in central locations away from any exits to avoid child abductions, and place food areas around them to appeal to children. In addition, most of the play areas are cleaned three times a day to rebuke the traditional “germy” stereotype dingier play areas have gotten in the past.
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