Retail in Asia

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Play area: shopping malls’ new secret weapon

The once-humble play area is one of shopping malls’ new secret weapons. In their bid to keep shoppers from deserting to the internet, more malls are adding restaurants and services like hair salons and fitness clubs that provide things that the internet can’t. New play areas can create lively public spaces while keeping a key constituent – parents happy.

Most malls are grappling with encroachment from online shopping and competition created by decades of retail overbuilding. As a result, malls "no longer can afford to be just landlords," said Paco Underhill, founder and CEO of Envirosell Inc., which consults for mall owners and retailers. "They have to be place makers," he says, referring to "the little something extra that gets someone to drive past another mall to come to yours."

That is why sprawling play areas averaging 900 to 1,200 square feet – with some topping 2,000 square feet – have been popping up in malls’ centre courts. Playtime Inc., the leading supplier of play areas to malls, installed 65 new shopping-centre projects last year, with major upgrades to an additional 18. Sales of play areas to malls have grown from less than USD500,000 in 2000 to an estimated USD12 million this year, industry participants say.