Shopping Malls and the role they play in Malaysia



When the first malls appeared in KL, such as The Weld as well as the neighbouring Fitzpatrick, they were places where you went to do very specific things i.e. grocery shopping and there were the obligatory services stores such as bookshop cum stationers, record shop and a boutique around the main supermarket tenant.  While mum did the groceries, the kids would congregate at the bookshop or the record shop to be duly collected upon the completion of errands.

Then came Ampang Park which introduced the concept of entertainment into malls with its rooftop amusement park. It was indeed the talk of the town then in the 70s when they introduced the first rooftop ferris wheel, carousels and games. KL-lites came in droves for wholesome family fun.

That was the beginning of a transition that would see malls in Malaysia evolved from a purely shopping destination to a lifestyle destination. A place where the whole family can go for fun, entertainment , great food, pampering, relaxation and last but not least, for retail therapy.

In Klang Valley, there are over 50 malls excluding Hypermarket malls and in the next 3-5 years, we will see more than 10 new malls.

In a recent CNN Travel poll, Kuala Lumpur was voted the 4th best shopping city in the world behind London, Tokyo and New York.

The poll judged cities in the following four areas, using a one-to-10 scoring scale for each category:

1. Getting around: Quality of public transportation, affordability and availability of cabs.

2. Value: Bargain opportunities, such as sale seasons and average prices.

3. Variety: Number of available brands, range of shopping categories, quantity of upscale shops, department stores, boutique and vintage retailers and market stalls.

4. Experience: City beauty, quality of window displays and shop décor, friendliness and competence of clerks and service staff, dining and accommodation options. Source:

Although we should be congratulated on this achievement, are we in danger of oversaturation? What would some of the next stages of growth or evolution for malls? Or have we already milked every segment covered every possible niche and if so, how are mall managers and developers dealing with this reality?

In the panel discussion with Mr Charles Wong, Developer of Jaya One, Kung Suan Ai, Director of Marketing for KL Pavilion as well as VP of Malaysia Shopping Malls Association, Michael Hawkin, Associate Director of Consulting, Engage and Benjamin Yong, Founder of BIG Sdn Bhd, all agreed that there was still a future for malls as witnessed by their expansion plans for their services.

BIG is set to expand its offering further, whilst Jaya One is currently building a mall next to their original building comprising office and shop lots. The panel all agreed that there would always be niches in the market and to be competitive and even successful, malls and retail businesses would have to differentiate, engage and personalize.

To truly offer something different that engages and fills a niche, Benjamin Yong advises entreprenuers to look within themselves:- what is it that they want that the market does not have. The BIG group of restaurants was borne out of frustration for a lack of good eating experiences in a stylish setting.

As a new father, Charles Wong saw a huge need for a one-stop enrichment centre that would offer parents the convenience of retail as well as a high quality education experience for their children. This has culminated in the creation of The School, which promises, a place for those who want to learn, grow and have fun together with their family, set in a vibrant and enriching environment.

On the subject of engagement, Michael Hawkins feels the way to truly engage is to listen to your shoppers. Every time they buy from your shop, note it down and start creating a profile of your shoppers. Once you have built up a comprehensive profile, you can now engage them in a personalized way. He cites that Tesco is currently personalizing their direct mailers to include vouchers for products that you need. Gone are the days of the diaper voucher that went to every shopper on their database.

Kung Suan Ai believes that the next stage of evolution for malls would be the seamless integration between public and private realm. This negotiation between private and public realm have long been cited as one of the key factors in creating sustainable communities. Done well, they invite creative collaborations and partnerships that benefit the communities around them and stimulate a vibrancy that is vital to the growth of cities.

Whatever the future brings, all four of the panelist fully agree that for Malls and the retail environment to thrive, there is an urgent need to relook at our predilection for constantly putting Malaysia on sale. Although cited as one of the key drivers for placing us fourth on the CNN poll, nevertheless, the far reaching consequences are dire for retailers, mall developers and the shoppers alike as it slowly erodes quality of services, the ability to offer a truly differentiated and high value experience.

So as Malaysia looks to become a high income nation and we strive towards branding ourselves as a top destination brand, we need to take a leaf out of great brands:- Great brands are never just about price.  They are all about the experience. Let us commit to elevating the Malaysian experience vis a vis service levels rather than fighting on price which erodes our brand value. Experiences such as seamless integration of transport, ease of accessibility, safety and high comfort are benchmarks that we need to vie for and when done consistently well, they become synonymous with Brand Malaysia. How priceless would that be.


  1. Industry Speaks – Malls Teaser
  2. From needs to desires – evolution of malls in Malaysia
  3. Promo-hunting – the Malaysian cultural habit
  4. Being world’s 4th shopping destination – are we malled out?
  5. Finding a differentiation point
  6. Designing the future


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