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Mall than meets the eye, Part II
Dubai boasts tens of glitzy malls, including the largest one in the region. But what are the essentials of a successful shopping center? Part II.
February 15, 2009 8:34 by Rania Habib
Great shops, fantastic roof. While Ibrahim agrees that the architecture of Ibn Battuta mall can “take your breath away,” he believes the mall is fundamentally flawed in its design. “Customer circulation is not intuitive,” he says. “When you’re designing a mall, the last thing you want customers to do is to look up at the roof when they’re walking around; Ibn Battuta encourages customers to look at the roof and not the shops, because the roof is so wonderful. I’m not saying the roof shouldn’t be wonderful, but the shops should be more wonderful. One could argue maybe it’s not a shopping centre, maybe it’s just a walk of discovery, but tell retailers that when they’re paying high rents for shops.”
“There also seems to be no relevance between the tenants and offers and the theming of the districts,” continues Ibrahim. “The theming stops at the architecture; if I’m going through an Indian-themed area, the last thing I want is another bloody Starbucks. If you’re going to do it, do it right the way through as a customer experience. The roof, the ceilings, the columns, they’re all wonderful. So much time, money, and effort has been spent on the fabric of the interior, and it takes your breath away, there’s no question about that. But it should have been executed in relation to an efficient shopping experience.”
Enter The Dubai Mall, where the shopping experience is arguably more effective. With 12.1 million square feet to play with, a lot could have been done wrong. “The vision of the mall is to be able to offer size and scope,” says Karen Willett, senior marketing manager for The Dubai Mall. “If you’re looking for a sneaker, you’ll have the brands like Nike and Puma, and we’re trying make sure we give each store as much space as possible to offer their entire range. Then you can go to Go Sport, see Nikes and Pumas there, and compare. This allows you to make best decision, so when you walk out of that door, because you’ve got the scale and scope and breadth of offer, you walk out knowing you’ve got the best deal and the best product that’s right for you at that point in time.”
With The Dubai Mall’s key features including an aquarium and discovery centre, an ice rink and a gold souk, the only access to the Burj Dubai observation deck once the tower is completed, KidZania (a land for kids created by kids), Sega Republic (an indoor theme park,) and a retractable roof in the Grove area, the center is clearly aiming for experience and education in addition to retail. “There is definitely an increase in the need for malls to focus on leisure and entertainment within malls to focus on, and it’s about being part of the community; so you need to have reasons to keep bringing people back,” says Willett.
“The Dubai Mall is a million times better designed, conceived and planned than Ibn Battuta,” says Ibrahim. “There are some absolutely fantastic pieces of design there. I think the districting is really fantastic; you really feel you’re in a luxury area or a kids’ area or a convenience area. The biggest disappointment for me is the food court, because it’s a food court. I think the days are dead and gone when a shopping mall should have a food court. We should be trying to replicate real places, and make real community places, with shopping being part of a community.”
“Also, the navigation and signage is really confusing,” continues Ibrahim. “Whoever did it doesn’t know how to design signage; they should have come to us. It really is over the top and very complicated and too small in most places. But it’s going to be a stunning success; I have no doubt about that. It’s in a fantastic location and it’s really beautiful.”
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