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Title:China's Malls Go Social in Face of Ecommerce Competition

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The expansion of China’s online retail sector, which grew to RMB 12.3 trillion ($1.9 trillion) in 2014, has led many observers to predict dire consequences for bricks-and-mortar commerce in the country.

However, despite the impressive growth of Taobao and JD.com, in 2014 retail sales at China’s shopping malls also increased by 7.7 percent compared to the previous year, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce.

Part of the reason that ecommerce and shopping malls in China both are growing at comfortable clips, despite China’s recent slowdown in economic growth is that they both serve useful functions for the growing crop of mainland consumers, with offline commerce providing a social function that is lacking both in online platforms and in other areas of Chinese society.

Weekends are for Window-Shopping

With Chinese having more disposable income and leisure time after twenty years of record economic growth, Guangjie, which roughly translates as window shopping, has become a primary pastime for many of China’s newly affluent consumers.

In communities that lack adequate public spaces such as parks, gyms, and other activity areas, malls have quickly become popular meeting places, particularly in China, where homes are smaller and multi-generational living is common. They also have become destinations in themselves, drawing in people to enjoy a day out and fill their leisure time.

“Malls have evolved from prosaic boxes accommodating shops with functional circulation through to lifestyle centres with greater integration of F&B and entertainment, public spaces, and often day-lit arcades designed to maintain a longer dwell time, enhanced consumption, and keeping shoppers in a browsing trance”, says Christine Lam, Executive Director of global architectural firm Aedas. “They are palaces of consumption.”

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