The Grocery Anchor: Saving America's Shopping Centers?

There is a saying that goes something like “a smart sailor doesn’t fight against the winds, he uses them to his advantage.”  Which, as cliché as it might sound, it’s a saying that conveys the attitude needed to successfully navigate change.

The idea of grocery stores becoming shopping center anchors is something that’s been happening for the past few years, it’s a growing trend. It may seem a little crazy, however, in the 1960s grocery stores were a pretty common find in America’s malls.

There are two ways to look at this part of history repeating itself: A desperate last hope to “save” shopping centers, or the beginning of a new era of retail. Both are true.

The traditional mall format is ending, and while there is no saving of the past. There is a new future for shopping centers, it just looks completely different than anything we’ve seen, so it’s hard to imagine.

Here are three ways the grocery stores anchor is setting-up America’s shopping centers for the future.

Shopping centers give grocery stores the space they need.  

The grocery stores of the future will need a lot of space, and shopping centers provide that. Grocery stores now need to create experiential concepts in order to attract today’s consumer. Groceraunts, interactive displays and technology experiences all need space.

Separately, with companies like Amazon promising to revolutionize grocery stores and the ability to deliver fresh goods to people, it’s rational to assume that operations like that will require large spaces that act dually as places that people can physically shop, and also as distribution centers.

Millennial shoppers want a one-stop-shop.

The pace of life today is not for the faint of heart, and that reality is not going anywhere fast. Millennial shoppers want to be able to go to a store that they can get everything at in one stop, and quickly. Most of us have things on our grocery lists that require multiple (at least two different) stops. If you want organic groceries you need to go to one store, but if you also need to pick up a pair of socks, you more than likely will have to make a stop somewhere else too.

Grocery stores in shopping centers solve this problem for shoppers. They can pick-up a pair of socks at a retailer, then also get their groceries and maybe pick-up a ready-made dinner to-go all by driving to one place.

Grocery stores bring-in a lot of foot traffic.

Consumers are going to grocery stores more than they are going to department stores, period. People need to buy food at least once weekly (sometimes more), whereas the things people are buying at department stores: clothes, makeup, appliances, home goods etc., are about once-a-month purchases.

However, there is the argument that grocery stores as anchors are not bringing-in the same type of shopper that department stores do, meaning that while a grocery store in a mall would be a success, it may not have a strong impact on the mall as a whole.


Is is possible that yesterday’s mall shopper, will not exist at all in the future? With all of the headlines about the transformational state of retail, thinking about what worked yesterday and the types of people that malls used to attract is not the type of thinking that will progress them into the future.

If shopping centers are to survive into the future, outside-of-the-box, completely fresh thinking is essential. The way things were and have been are slowly dissipating, the most successful people will be ones who accept that, and use industry changes to better their business. Remember, smooth sailing never made a skillful sailor. For more on this topic check out this article in the Washington Post.