Shopping is one of our most traditional pastimes, but malls could turn to ghost towns with predictions complexes could shut their doors in just 10 years time.

Our shopping habits are changing, and we're swapping store hopping in shopping centres in favour of online and big box stores.

Brisbane is already feeling the effects of being at the end of the shopping mall era, with several suburban malls looking doomed for the future.

University of Queensland's economics researcher Brendan Markey-Towler said smaller complexes could close in a decade.

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"They'll just decline over time to the point where it becomes cheaper for the local government to zone it for apartment blocks," he told the Courier Mail.

WHY ARE THEY DYING?

"It is not one thing but a mix of conditions that cause shopping malls to 'die'," University of Canberra design, architecture and planning expert Lisa Scharoun said.

"In the US a lot of 'dead malls' had to do with over-saturation of shopping centres in regional areas. These shopping centres are also known as 'fashion malls' and tended to have a similar mix of fast moving consumer goods - clothing, shoes and non-essential goods.

"Along with over-saturation of malls with similar goods, another element that caused some shopping malls to go under in the US is the proliferation of big box or discount stores such as Walmart. These warehouse-type stores sell goods at discount prices and also include grocery stores - so they're essentially a one-stop shop for consumers to get things at discount or near wholesale prices. The global financial crisis also saw some Real Estate Investment Trusts and large mall development groups fail, notably the Centro group that had malls in Australia, which also caused some malls to close.

"The viability and popularity of online retail has also led to the decline in the bricks and mortar shops - particularly in the case of retailers such as large booksellers like Borders."

Expert at Retail Oasis, Pippa Kulmar, told news.com.au the foot traffic in Australian malls had been continuously declining for the past year.

She said it was due to a generational shift. Last year Baby Boomers were the dominant generation but it has flipped and now Generation Y makes up 25.7 per cent of the population, which is the largest cohort.

"When you delve into shopping behaviour, 29.1 per cent of Generation Y's have bought online in the past three months, compared to only 19.8 per cent of Baby Boomers," she said. "It's at tipping point. Potentially there's management that doesn't quite understand how shopping behaviour has changed."

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WILL THIS HAPPEN IN AUSTRALIA?

Dr Scharoun said there were a lot of "mixed-use" development happening in Australia, where retail spaces are combined with apartment blocks or office towers.

This type of development is competing with traditional shopping centres for retail vitality. She said shopping centres were often generic, and they are boring consumers because they offered the same brands and experiences across all regions.

"Online retailing has also taken a large chunk of the retail market in Australia, particularly as many online retailers offer no or very low shipping costs thus making it more cost efficient to shop online," she told news.com.au.

Kulmar said discount department stores like Target, Big W and Kmart would also be impacted by the retail fall out.

"I think you'll see potentially a culling of the brands in discount department store category," she said. "Australia recognises we are being over serviced with discount department stores, it's a big category for how many people there actually are.

"Will it be Kmart, Target or Big W?"

CAN THEY SURVIVE?

Dr Scharoun said shopping centres were becoming more of what was termed in the US as "theatries".

"That is malls that are primarily restaurants and cinemas that offer people experiences to socialise and entertain themselves rather than being simply fashion-driven," she said.

"Traditionally malls were developed and designed around departments stores such as JC Penny and Macy's in the US and David Jones and Myer in Australia.

"Department stores were the anchors that people were drawn to and then would explore all the other smaller retailers in the mall on their way to the second or third anchor.
"We are now seeing a big shift from department stores being the anchors of malls to restaurants, cafes and cinemas being the new anchors."

She said for malls to survive, they needed to give the customer experiences other than shopping.

"For instance incorporating farmer's markets into malls and local community groups and co-working spaces and 'makers space' for people to meet up with like-minded friends to create their own fashions and objects," she said.

Kulmar said as time goes on we will see a continual fall out of fashion retailers like Top Shop, David Lawrence and Marcs so the way people shop for fashion in store could change.

"What you see in the US is stores moving to showrooming. You go in to store, book an appointment to try on clothes and the store might then send back clothes to home to work," she said. "They are not holding all of the stock and the store becomes a place to hook up with a personal stylist and experiment with a fashion experience.

"Retailers like Bonobos in the US have guideshops where you make a 30 minute appointment with a stylist, try on sample styles and have the stylists suggest what you should wear.

"You don't need as many stores because you're able to reach more people through online so there's more of an investment around experience."

- news.com.au