Guest Column | June 1, 2018

Why Are Lifestyle Centers So Successful?

By Mark S. Rosenbaum, Ph.D., University of South Carolina Department of Retailing and German Ramirez, Externado University of Colombia


Is retailing dying? Is there are retailing apocalypse? Can retailing survive? Will Amazon take over retailing? Is the mall dead?

As retailing academicians, both in the United States and in Colombia, we hear these questions on a near daily basis from students, parents, and even retailers themselves. Rest assured, retailing sales are not decreasing and yes, while Amazon represents a retailing powerhouse, other retailers will not only survive — they’ll thrive.

As for the question regarding “dead malls,” the answer is a bit more complex. One does not need advice from retailing academics to realize the future of the enclosed mall in the U.S. and many global markets is quite bleak. However, this is not necessarily the case for lifestyle centers; indeed, this retail center format is thriving despite marketplace realities such as the decline of department stores and the rise of internet retailing.

Lifestyle centers represent open-air shopping areas which integrate natural elements, such as greenery, water displays/fountains, gathering places, and animals (e.g., birds, butterflies, squirrels), into shopping contexts that feature trendy retail, dining, and entertainment options. Additionally, a lifestyle center is comprised of at least 50,000 square feet of retail space that targets affluent consumers whom can pay price premiums to shop, dine, play, and often live within the confines of the center.

Although one may easily speculate the success of lifestyle centers is due to their high-end retail stores, it should be noted most luxury retailers sell their merchandise online. Thus, the store selection per se is not going to guarantee any lifestyle center success. Perhaps, people enjoy shopping outdoors; however, many outdoor strip centers are closing. Therefore, the lack of an enclosure is not going to guarantee retailers success. How then do we explain the success of lifestyle centers?

We believe the success of lifestyle centers stems from the natural elements that are infused with a center’s shopping, dining, and entertainment options. That is, lifestyle centers offer patrons something that one cannot easily purchase online — time in nature. Health researchers long espoused the human affinity for nature is innate as humans experience tremendous health and mental benefits simply by being outdoors in green and natural areas. Similarly, our research suggests consumers may experience health benefits in shopping areas that contain greenery and other natural elements, such as water displays and lush planting. In order to understand our contention, we turn our focus to understanding human brain activity in the context of a lifestyle shopping center.

In this study, we randomly selected 60 shoppers in an enclosed mall in Bogota and had them watch a 1.20 second video of a lifestyle center without and with natural elements (waterfalls, butterflies, potted plants, etc.). We then employed the Emotiv EPOC+ EEG headset to record neural responses to the videos; screen captures from the green and non-green version are illustrated below:

Why Are Lifestyle Centers So Successful Image 1Why Are Lifestyle Centers So Successful Image 2

Why Are Lifestyle Centers So Successful Image 3

Why Are Lifestyle Centers So Successful Image 5Why Are Lifestyle Centers So Successful Image 4Why Are Lifestyle Centers So Successful Image 6


















We measured six types of human emotions based upon a participant’s brain activity and took a measurement every 10 seconds. We then averaged the results to obtain mean scores for six emotions; these are excitement, interest, stress, engagement, focus, and relaxation. A summary of these measures is highlighted here:

Why Are Lifestyle Centers So Successful Chart

The statistical results reveal when participants experienced a green lifestyle center, they were more excited, interested, engaged, focused, relaxed, and had less stress compared to participants who viewed a non-green alterative. The means and standard deviations are shown here:


.58 (.07) ***

.42 (.09)


.59 (.07) ***

.50 (.06)


.37 (.04) ***

.49 (.14)


.68 (.10) ***

.59 (.07)


.39 (.12) **

.31 (.05)


.40 (.07) **

.34 (.09)

*** p < .001, ** p < .01.

Table 1. Means and standard deviations for dimensions measured by the Emotiv EPOC+ EEG

From a neural perspective, shoppers enjoy many health and well-being benefits by spending time in lifestyle centers that embody natural elements. The confluence of natural elements, along with trendy and quality shopping, dining, entertainment options, results in the success of lifestyle centers. In other words, the human brain and body is attracted to the greenery found in lifestyle centers — this is the key to their success.