Opening supermarkets in abandoned shopping mall anchor stores has moved from oddity to proven success.

It’s a natural fit. Malls are generally located near population centers, they have decent infrastructure, and they have great parking options.

The consumer shift to online shopping and reliance on the smart phone for socializing is killing the mall as the meeting place and the department store as the anchor.

We are seeing a rise in online shopping for grocery goods, but a future similar to the mall looks far off, if ever. Consumers simply care more about choosing their fruits and vegetables and how they get from the farm to them than they do about how a sweater or television makes the journey.

This year all across the U.S., supermarket chains such as Kroger, Wegman’s and Trader Joe’s, to name a few, are moving into vacant mall anchor spots.

I’ve seen this play out near me in Kansas City, Mo.

trader joes mall A small urban mall was struggling at the beginning of the millennium as one of its two anchor stores, Montgomery Ward, was liquidating. After a couple of years of decline, in 2003, Target announced plans for a SuperTarget store in the space. Community reception was mixed.

But it worked, grew, and breathed new life into the mall, which saw its shoe stores, movie theater and sporting goods stores hang around, while Starbucks, Five Guys and other growing chains moved in and remain.

Then in 2011, Trader Joe’s picked a mall spot near SuperTarget as one of its two as it entered the Kansas City metro area.

How has it worked out? Both are crowded with customers every time I stop in. But it’s fair to say Kansas City consumers didn’t even know they wanted it.

It reminds me of a Steve Jobs quote: “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

Grocery stores in malls work because they make life easier for customers, just as fresh-cut and other value-added items do.

There’s no inherent desire to buy things online. It’s out of convenience, and if retailers can provide convenience and other value in any form, consumers will keep returning.  

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