Saving malls and retail shops is going to require a return to tradition.

Anyone who lived their teen years through the 80’s or 90’s probably spent a lot of time at the local retail mall or galleria. Remember those? They were nothing like the ghost towns we see today. Many of us recall fond memories as we drive past, opting these days to shop online for the best prices and easy ordering. But according to Metal Mafia owner and Board of Experts member, Vanessa Nornberg, malls are losing relevancy not due to the inevitability of e-commerce, but because they’ve lost the plot on how to appeal to shoppers.

“Malls no longer have the pull they once did–and it’s not because the mall concept has died, but rather because the retailers inside are doing three things wrong. They have strayed from their core mission, they have failed to create true value, and they have stopped serving up newness.”

Vanessa points to three big areas where malls and other traditional retail shops should return their focus in order to save themselves.

Mission Matters – Retail stores used to have very specific target audiences, but most now try to appeal to everyone. The result? No one is impressed.

Prices Don’t Matter More Than Value – As online shopping grew into the juggernaut that it is today, many retailers relied on price wars to compete, but in doing so, they stopped paying attention to the reason why people went to malls. It was never about the price. It was about the experience.

Nothing New to See Here – As Vanessa points out, malls used to be “the gateway to newness” – a place to spot trends, see the latest fashions for your age group, and find items that affirmed your personal style and how you wanted to be seen. Vanessa points to a shift in focus onto guaranteed sell-through’s and short term success as the reason why formerly trendy shops lost their edge. Their merchandise became very homogeneous, and after a while, shoppers stopped coming.

“Sadly, the thrill of going to the mall and coming home with something that wows is now a thing of the past, because retailers traded in their edge for sure bets when it came to their merchandising.”

Delivering a great experience to your customers is relevant for every business. In many ways retail stores have a leg up on their online competitors, because if they can get the people in the door, they can use real human connection to do this – something that e-commerce companies spend a lot of time trying to imitate (or innovate, as it were).

“If the magic of the mall is to be rekindled, retailers are going to have to return to their old ways. They will need to be clear about who they want as customers, convey the true value of their experience via their merchandise mix and the world they create around it, and start leading, rather than following again. Until they do that, the mall halls will remain empty and attrition to online purchasing will run rampant.”

You can read Vanessa’s article in its original form at Inc. Magazine’s website.