Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jan-Feb 2019

Moving into the entertainment zone

How shopping malls are attempting to re-imagine themselves from strictly retail to recreational spaces.
Top: Sindbad’s Wonderland offers rides and games for children; bottom-right: Cinepax cinemas in malls attract increased footfall; bottom-left: VR rides at Sindbad Extreme.
Top: Sindbad’s Wonderland offers rides and games for children; bottom-right: Cinepax cinemas in malls attract increased footfall; bottom-left: VR rides at Sindbad Extreme.

In 2013, the US experienced what was termed the ‘death of shopping malls’ when huge e-tailers such as Amazon turned into the preferred mode of shopping for a significant number of consumers. Visits to malls declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013 (source: Cushman and Wakefield, 2013) and to remedy the situation, malls were forced to re-imagine themselves. They did so by including cinemas, indoor theme parks and even indoor ski slopes within their premises to attract customers.

Pakistan has witnessed a similar trend in the last five years. Although large departmental stores remain the main attraction in malls, an increasing number of consumers are more inclined to spend on experiences while shopping – to a large extent – is viewed as a women-centric activity. Therefore, to attract men and children, malls are increasingly providing entertainment options to cater to them. As a result, malls are witnessing a change in their tenant profile as small-scale retail stores lose out to flagship stores and entertainment options.

According to Sidra Nadeem, CEO, Sindbad Wonderland, which has a presence in all three Dolmen Mall branches in Clifton, North Nazimabad and Tariq Road, the connection between entertainment and retail has always been there but concedes that this is more noticeable now.

“Families are increasingly viewing malls as recreational and shopping venues. They come with the intention of spending two to three hours shopping, being entertained and having a meal.”

Zeeshan Saleh, Marketing Executive, Ocean Mall and Tower, agrees with this viewpoint but maintains that “shopping is still the main draw, but having something for everyone in a family is becoming increasingly important as malls are now one-stop family destinations.”

As a result of these factors, Sindbad Wonderland, which primarily offered rides and games for children, initially increased the number of arcade games for teenagers and adults. After seeing the positive response to them, Dolmen Mall’s Clifton branch introduced Sindbad Extreme in September last year that offers teenagers and adults rides that use technological advancements such as virtual reality experiences and 360-degree roller coaster simulators.

Similarly, realising the need for rides for the older (primarily male) demographic, LuckyOne (the latest addition to Karachi’s ‘mallscape’) introduced Onederland Level 2, which provides rides including an indoor roller coaster, VR experiences and wall climbing for adults. The mall provides entertainment options for children and pre-teens between five and 13 in the form of Onederland.

Meanwhile, Ocean Mall has also recently introduced a wider mix of entertainment options catering to all age groups: Topsy Turvy for toddlers, Atlantis and Bounce for pre-teens and Battle Station (laser tag), VR gaming and Haunted Prison for teenagers and adults.

“With such a mix, the mall has increased its footfall substantially and it has become very apparent that entertainment options are increasingly becoming a ‘pull factor’ for the mall,” says Saleh.

Another factor that has led to the establishment of entertainment options for adults in Dolmen Mall and Ocean Mall is the fact that they are ‘mixed-use developments’; this means that they provide office and retail space as a result of which they are frequented by an increasing number of men who are looking for something to do while they take a break from work or while their womenfolk shop.

Saleh highlights another reason why a separate facility catering to adults was needed: “Sindbad Wonderland had a ‘family only’ policy; this meant that if a group of men who work in the offices in Dolmen Towers want to play video games during their lunch break, they were not allowed entry.”


Another factor that has led to the establishment of entertainment options for adults in Dolmen Mall and Ocean Mall is the fact that they are ‘mixed-use developments’; this means that they provide office and retail space as a result of which they are frequented by an increasing number of men who are looking for something to do while they take a break from work or while their womenfolk shop.


Another entertainment option that adds to footfall is a cinema, and Saleh believes that the presence of Cinepax in Ocean Mall continues to result in increased footfall for the mall.

“The movie-going crowd, more often than not, ends up in the mall for a quick bite from the food court or for a visit to a retail outlet,” he says. Atrium is another mall that has been benefitting from the crowd-pull of its cinemas and the cinema goers contribute to the revenues of various outlets and eateries there.

However, Nadeem is of the opinion that providing consumers with entertainment options that do not require as much time as a film does is more important (families visit a mall for an average of two to three hours), and this is why Dolmen has not, so far, added a cinema on their premises.

Another mode of entertainment for mall visitors are brand activation and engagement activities and they are increasingly being organised all year round by FMCGs and clothing brands.

An example is the Dolmen Shopping Festival in December which remains the biggest shopping event of the year for the mall. The timing is of importance as this is when children have holidays and when a lot of Pakistanis from overseas visit the country and shop; winter is also considered the ‘wedding season’ in Pakistan and this further boosts sales.

Another activity that attracts shoppers are lucky draws and these are held during the run-up to Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha; people who spend a specified amount on shopping within a mall are automatically entered into the lucky draw; sales are also held during this time. Furthermore, special discounts and activities are organised on specific days such as International Women’s Day (March 8), Pakistan Day (March 23), Independence Day (August 14) and Children’s Day (November 20).

Such has been the success of these entertainment options that this has resulted in the emergence of a major challenge for malls: that of running out of space to accommodate people within its premises.

Furthermore, installing and maintaining imported technology-based rides (they are extremely popular) presents the challenge of hiring people based overseas to conduct maintenance rounds or at the very least, training people in Pakistan to do so. Both options place a financial burden on the malls and they are struggling to offer the most economical rates for these rides in a bid to cater to all income segments.

However, despite these challenges, it is clear that there is a need for entertainment options within malls. While those in the larger cities have already done so, it remains to be seen whether or not this trend will emerge in second-tier cities across Pakistan.

Sadia Kamran is a freelance writer. sadiazam@yahoo.com