Are you kidding? Shopping centres aren’t dead. People can't wait to get back into their nearest Westfield.

Pre-COVID browsing around the shops in a shopping centre, having a coffee or lunch and then buying something brand new was a leisure activity, a hobby and a weekend pastime for millions of men, women and teenagers.

Way back then, shopping was an enjoyable pastime, our leisure time, our ‘me’ time and something many of us did to while away a spare hour or two.

That’s all changed. COVID-19 has forced us to shop online or go without.

2.5 million Australians started shopping online for the first time since COVID-19. Shopping Centre profits have dropped. Last month Scentre Group, owner of Westfield-branded shopping malls in Australia and New Zealand reported an interim $3.6 billion loss for the first half of 2020.

Despite the millions of job losses and a deep recession, retailers have seen an explosion in consumer spending. Australia Post are handling more online shopping parcels in COVID-19 times than at Christmas time. In addition to the obvious surge and spike in office and gym equipment, here’s what we’ve bought:

  • Five times more family entertainment and learning items like puzzles, toys, games and books than in 2019
  • 155% more plant bulbs and seeds compared to 2019
  • In one week, Myer reported that beauty purchases were up 400%
  • Myer says homewares and entertainment sales are up 390% compared to last year.
  • Sleepwear purchases at Myer were up a staggering 1100%

In the USA, Amazon hired an additional 75,000 workers in their distribution warehouses to keep their massive shipping operation running smoothly in response to growing coronavirus pandemic customer demand.

COVID-19 has rocked our world, our confidence and our comfort.

Rare research on the effects of a pandemic undertaken by Loss Institutes in the United States have shown that we are grieving for our former lives – the office, job security, the daily commute, holidays, family gatherings, even funerals. And, we are grieving for the pre-COVID days of browsing around the shops. Millions are grieving for the shops.

As retail shops and small businesses permanently close their doors and transition to online sales many people are questioning the future and role of big super-sized shopping centres in our COVID-19 and post COVID world. They’re asking “Are shopping centres dead?”

I went out and asked a random mixture of professional men and women what they thought. Here’s some of what they said.

“Like all aspects of life, shopping centres will have to adapt and change, most of them were designed with a single purpose which is risky. A new model is required to meet a reduced need and to widen their appeal”

“Shopping centres will return because people will still yearn for the experience”

“I love shopping on my local main street, being exposed to trees and birds”

“I love shopping centres and hope they will bounce back; but I’m not optimistic”

“People like to interact with people. Online shopping is a convenience, but browsing a shopping center and meeting people and friends is social”

“I’ve never liked shopping centres. I don’t like shopping online either. I love my local small shops close to home”

“When people go to the cinema again, that is when shopping centres like Westfield will see a resurgence in customers and viability’
‘Car-based shopping centres have all but killed off the local high streets and independent retail”

‘There will always be a place for community to gather which will in turn result in some retail therapy attached’.

‘They’ll be back. Human beings are wired to congregate in community and shopping is an addiction’

“Are you kidding? People can’t wait to get back into Westfield shopping centres”

“Where will I get my exercise if they close?”

“I’ve also seen so many positives in shopping centres. Many offer indoor walking groups for people who are less mobile or find the heat too much’

‘The shopping centre and retail experiences already being implemented in places like Japan and China are exciting to me”


Perhaps shopping centres will bounce back, maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll become giant-sized one-stop destinations for shopping, leisure and entertainment, perhaps they won’t. Perhaps they’ll become the co-working, remote-working community hub, maybe they won’t. Noone knows.

COVID-19 has been an awakening. We’ve all spent more time at home. And, many people have begun to realise that most of our homes – and attics, sheds and garages – are swamped with stuff.

Earlier this year, amidst the unprecedented bush-fire crisis, Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews urged people to stop haphazardly donating clothes and homewares on fire-affected communities. The problem is back – in a different format and on a much larger scale. In the UK during COVID-19 ‘fly tipping’ and the dumping of decluttered and unwanted possessions has skyrocketed by more than 300%. Around the western world mountains of ‘COVID-19 decluuttering’ bric-a-brac and clothes have been left outside charity shops, despite the fact that most of them are shut.

So perhaps a new role for shopping centres might be managing all of our unwanted stuff?

Image if a ‘COVID-19 Legacy’ was a ‘Not Shop’ in every shopping centre. A place where surplus clothes, toiletries and homewares could be stored ready for the next social, economic, environmental or health crisis. Rather than fridges, clothes and shoes being dumped on the side of the road.

I’d call them ‘Resilience Banks’.

What do you think?


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