Virtual Shopping Malls – the Future of Retail

Why are virtual shopping malls the future of retail?

Retailers and shopping centre owners around the world are trying to figure out what the future of retail looks like. With foot traffic declining and online traffic increasing, the structure of the shopping centre offering will change significantly in the next year – in fact analysts have reported that COVID-19 has accelerated the retail industry by five years, writes Kelly Slessor. Kelly Slessor is the founder and CEO of Shop You. Virtual shopping malls are the future of retail.


The new future will be impacted by several factors. Some of which existed long before the coronavirus pandemic hit:

  • We have just trained 4.57 billion people to shop online. A friend shared a story about her 80-year-old grandmother who is now doing all her grocery shopping online. Before COVID, she never would have considered jumping online
  • We have developed a crowd-averse and safety-first mentality
  • Convenience is a commodity that we will pay for
  • Shopping local is convenient

No one could have expected what 2020 would look like, and no one could predict what happens next. However, we can make assumptions based on consumer behaviour. We can be certain that shopping behaviour will fundamentally shift.

The question is not whether we will shop online or in a physical store. It is about how does the physical store and the virtual world connect to provide a seamless customer experience.

This opens the opportunity of a virtual shopping mall connected to the customer’s local mall comes into play. Customers now have more choices and access to brands and alternatives than ever before. It is not a quick COVID-fix. We need to build a sustainable platform for growth.

This is an exciting opportunity to rethink retail and the customer experience.

The Metaverse for Retail

The Metaverse for Retail

I must admit I was equal parts scared and equal parts excited when I watched Mark Zuckerberg announcement of The Metaverse – a new reality network, pairing physical and digital.

Scared because I have two boys that really don’t require any encouragement to spend more time in a  virtual world. Excited because as a Retail Futurist, this is exactly the platform that is required to evolve retail for the next generation. Think of the train tracks that made the steam engine possible; the network that carried the signal for the telephone; the electricity that enabled the lightbulb. I believe that this is a defining moment in retail that we are yet to realise.

Online retail is still living in the dark ages, rewind 30 years; online retail evolved from catalogues. Catalogues you had to trawl through 1000s of products in one big paper book to find the product that was right for you.

 Flipping through an Argos Catalogue

We digitised the catalogue and transferred it onto the screen back in the early 90s and voila, digital catalogues were born or what we now call Ecommerce sites.

Fast-forward nearly 30 years and we are still flipping through hundreds of pages of digital catalogues. Whilst it’s granted with a level of intelligent categorisation and search, it’s still a catalogue on your screen.

Virtual reality or augmented reality shopping platforms have managed to get some air, but nothing has really had a significant impact. Usually, virtual reality or augmented reality experiences are just a replica of the physical store experience. Again, at which point did anyone say “I love the supermarket so much I would like to see the exact experience replicated on my phone?” Providing the ability to walk up and down aisles virtually isn’t going to revolutionise the shopping experience.

When you look at the conversion rate online for eCommerce stores globally, it sits at around 2%. In-store, the average conversion rate is 20 – 30%. This is the metric that shows us how far we still need to go and how wrong we are getting this digital stuff.

The metaverse is our chance to get this online shopping thing right and add real value to customers.


Having two boys who game (probably a bit more than they should) I watch with intrigue at how they run around, pick things up, compete and purchase skins to personalise their journey.

Gaming will become a major sales platform for retailers. One where real-world goods and digital goods are bought, gifted and exchanged. Collabs such as Fortnite and Nike have already set the foundations.  When you can see the latest pair of Nike kicks on your enemy and play to win them, or buy that dress that you saw in the window of a store as you run past while trying to shoot someone with your diamond-encrusted shotgun; this is the next evolution. Connecting payments, providing a platform for retailers to upload products, one-click purchases and ultimately making it seamless for the customer will drive sales.


“Imagine you put on your glasses or headset, and you’re instantly in your home space. It has parts of your physical home recreated virtually, it has things that are only possible virtually, and it has an incredibly inspiring view of whatever you find most beautiful.” This is Mark Zuckerberg’s vision.

The Metaverse gives us the ability to place a piece of art in our digital home to see what it looks like and then buy it in a virtual world for our physical space MIND BLOWN!. Style your house and your garden, reconfigure it and then purchase every product in it.

As you purchase the products, they are automatically added to your virtual house.


This is where I really lose my mind. Stay with me – I am in my Metaverse and I invite my stylist, “Rachel Zoe” of course, to join me in my wardrobe. She goes through my real-world wardrobe in my virtual world and advises me on what suits me, what to cull and gives me tips on colours and fit.   I can click on what she is wearing and with one-click purchase her whole outfit…

Meta knows my measurements, my body shape and my preferences so can tell me if it’s right for me.

The Metaverse will give brands the ability to create stores, but these aren’t the traditional four walls that we associate with retail; these are endless stores that are seamlessly integrated into my metaverse – think content placement rather than product catalogues.

I can head to that beach in the Maldives and buy a bikini that the girl sat next to me is wearing OR to an Indian Temple and buy a culturally appropriate outfit for my upcoming real-world trip.  I can pre-check in at a virtual barbeque to see what the dress code is? Think Pinterest in real life but in virtual life and then transferred back into real life.

A world where I can buy digital or physical outfits, so for my next virtual work meeting I can wear that Prada top (whilst still wearing my ugg boots and pyjamas in the real world)

Ok, I admit, I have thought way too much about this!

For brands, they will have a far greater ability to test products, ideas, and to pre-sell items. I believe this will have a positive impact on the environment, reducing waste and landfill (reducing the amount of shit we buy that we don’t actually want or need).

Mark Zuckerberg believes that “Within the next decade, the metaverse will reach a billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars in digital commerce and support jobs for millions of creators and developers,”

I believe the Shopping Metaverse is only limited by our imagination…..