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The Third Place : Could it be Malls?

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“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

Dino is surely not a wild fan of Oscar Wilde! Nor can he ever really imagine what the Third Place could be, like Mobi does above! So, let’s start from the beginning…

According to Ray Oldeburg, the Third Place is the anchor for community life which fosters broader creative interactions. These places are typically neutral, accessible, frequented by regulars, and the mood of participants is playful. There has always been a tussle for the Third Place and the contenders have been Cafes, Pubs, Malls, Clubs, Parks, Churches, and Public Libraries. This article tries to predict which of these contenders becomes the Third place.

But first, let us quickly understand all the Three Places quickly. The First Place was always our home. Period. This was always a sanctuary, an intimate place where one lived with his near and dear ones. After the industrial revolution, the Second Place was claimed by the Workplace. Historically, the Third Place was a place where people could vent their steam, rejuvenate, socialise and chill.

And so, in the past few years, we have seen various combinations of the “Places” as they evolved. For example, a combination of first and second places are now called co-living, a combination of second and third places are called co-working and a combination of first and third places are called co-mingling places.

And then COVID happened. A great lockdown forced people to stay indoors and the home- The First Place became the center for all action. Aided by digital connectivity, it became the primary place for consumption. Consumption of food, content, entertainment, healthcare, socialization and what not, thus staking a claim for the Third Place
As the lockdown eases, it is said The Second Place- Office / Workplace may never be the same again. An extended lockdown has engendered new habits in office-goers, which are likely to stay even after the lockdown eases. Work from home is not only a fad but is here to stay. Realizing this, corporates are starting to shed colossal spaces as they realise that large centralized offices are not needed.
This evolution of Second Place creates opportunities for the remaining two spaces to expand and take its place. Office is now viewed not as a solitary GO TO PLACE anymore. Office is seen as an enabler of productivity, a space that grows and contracts in a rhythm consistent with collaborative and creative needs of employees.
High productivity can be achieved if the employee is part of different physical spaces – with their internal team in the office, being alone at home ruminating, being online with partners /vendors and being in the open-outside office. Not everything needs to be at the central place but at any neutral place which fosters creativity. This trend of fortnightly meeting outside of office is likely to catch on
Home is a favorite now during the forced lockdown, but is likely to cede ground once the virus threat is lowered. Humans are very social in nature and home lacks the scale that humanity needs! People are restless. They want to go out. They want to meet friends and strangers. They want the new! They need experiences. If they get the reassurance of safety, they will look outside the First Place.
It is great to work from home using digital technologies, but it not that great to order in food every day, or watch movies on smaller screens or do video calls with you friends or have virtual cheers!
This brings us to beleaguered Third Place, which was no better than Second Place during the lockdown. Ravaged by the fear of virus, The Third Place was deserted for a long time. Bereft of footfalls and revenues, it was gasping for dear life. Their offerings of entertainment, socialization, rejuvenations and relaxations- all have been languishing, waiting for their patrons. The wait has been long and debilitating. The wait is now over. As we learn to coexist with the virus and the business environment reinvents itself, people have started tentatively going to the The Third Place.

The ground ceded by Second Place will be claimed by The Third Place. By design, the Third place has the scale, has the variety, has the offering of experiences that attracts us humans who are the customers.

Human gregariousness will top apprehensions once the safety concerns are allayed.
The next question is: If Third place is going to be the eventual winner, then who is going to be owning this Third Place: High Streets, Malls, Cafes, Clubs, Parks or Airports?

The Malls are a serious contender to stake their claim for the Third Place. They are already the best urban spaces with the right infrastructure: Parking, Ambience, Security, Hygiene, Avenues for Entertainment, Events, Rejuvenation, Food, Shopping – all fertile grounds to drive footfalls and provide excellent customer experience to end consumers. And now, with the office culture transformation, they can add a new set of tenants as their clientele.

The Malls also have had a moment of truth during the lockdown. Their relationship with their existing tenants has been altered forever. From being pure tenants and optionally being in a revenue share arrangement, the new contracts are sans any Minimum Guarantees and are tied to revenues of the tenants / merchants.

This is the new normal, something that the Malls have to come to terms with. And from here begins the quest for supremacy. As Malls become The Third space, they have to have deep relationships with their customers. Malls need to be more than just a landlord. They would be a business partner to their tenants, equally responsible for a highly differentiated customer experience and revenues. They have to keep the high street at bay. High street is playing the safety card and has been allowed to open its doors before the malls could.

A change in this equation calls for change in the way Malls have looked at only tenants as customers and have never looked at engagement with the customer’s customers. An introspection may consist of three key questions:

 

  1. Do we want to Know Our Customers?
  2. Do we want to Own our Customer Community?
  3. Are we ready with a customer experience platform to proceed?

Globally, across industries, it has been established that Customer Experience is the secret sauce behind higher Customer Life Time Value. And it extends beyond the brick and mortar place into the digital lives of its customers – a Phygital Third Place!

A reimagination that Mobi has submitted (and earlier) and Dino has rejected.

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