Eleven thousand kilometres is an awfully long way to go shopping. That’s how far I travelled recently on a trip to Santiago Chile, to see what I could find that was new and exciting in world retail. Granted, I was there to take part in the WPP* The Store Global Retail Forum. But I couldn’t wait to get out of the could-be-anywhere-hotel and explore the wilds of retail, Latin American-style. Vive la diferencia!
So imagine my relative disappointment when I walked Costanera Center, Latin America’s newest, shiniest, biggest mall, right in the heart of Santiago. A review on Trip Advisor nailed it when they called the Center “nice”. Yes, it’s large (140,000 sq.m) and filled to the brim with the usual suspects (H&M launched there in a 2,600 sq.m box a week or so ago). And yes, it’s successful, with 210,000 people swarming the centre on its opening weekend in 2012. But it’s just so damn soulless and boring. A mall on Mogadon.
Fortunately, my spirits lifted when I trekked a little further out of town and came across MallSport. This is a mall with balls. Lots of them actually. Soccer balls. Tennis balls. Golf balls. Plus a huge range of other sports represented. Because MallSport is an entire shopping centre 100% dedicated to the pursuit of sport and fitness.
I loved it, because it had the courage to actually stand for something. Costanera Center is middle-of-the-city, middle-of-the-road. MallSport is on the fringe and on the edge. A destination for adventure-seeking, game-playing, outdoor-loving Chileans.
At MallSport, you can shop for everything from a bike to a boat. And it’s not just stores. There are not one but two gyms. You can grab a meal at a place called “Burgers, Beer & Boards”. You can also hit the skate park, surf the wave pool, climb the indoor mountain, or take the Air Trail. The latter is a first…and possibly a last for shopping malls. For A$6-$8, willing participants strap themselves into harnesses and attempt to navigate an obstacle course 11 metres in the air, with no net. (At last I had discovered something genuinely, crazily Latin American. I’d love to see them try to explain that one to the OH&S guys.)
It was once said of another centre that I admire, Santana Row in San Jose, California; “the public wanted more from a shopping experience than walking across a giant parking lot into a generic mall.” In a post-digital age, shopping malls have to deliver something more than the dictionary definition of “a collection of shops”.
Where Costanera Center left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied (a bit like eating a large glazed donut – looks great, but filled with sugar, air and a hole in the middle), MallSport was something new, different and substantial. I have tried to research its performance, without success to date, but I admire what it’s trying to achieve. For my money, adrenaline beats Mogadon anyday.