A mall with balls

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 centre “nice”. Yes, it’s large (140,000sqm) and filled to the brim with the usual suspects (H&M launched in a 2600sqm 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 per cent 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 is 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 $6 to $8, willing participants strap themselves into harnesses and attempt to navigate an obstacle course 11m 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 with 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.

* WPP is IdeaWorks parent company and the world’s largest marketing communications group.

Jon Bird is CEO of specialist retail marketing agency IdeaWorks (www.ideaworks.com.au), and chairman of Octomedia, publisher of Inside Retail. Email: jon.bird@ideaworks.com.au Blog: www.newretailblog.com Twitter: @thetweetailer

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