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by Riccardo A. Davis

In the race to drive customer traffic in the current environment, shopping center owners are looking for every way they can find to differentiate their centers from competitors’ outlets. To that end, an old standby, mall fountains, are enjoying a resurgence in both indoor and outdoor settings.

One draw is that fountains can serve as gathering places in retail properties—an added amenity that can entice potential shoppers. Water features can also be incorporated as play areas for children—something that may enable parents to spend more time (and hopefully more dollars) at retail properties. Lastly, some owners say that fountains can even lead to increased sales by creating a more enjoyable ambience for shoppers.

Santa Monica, Calif-based regional mall REIT Macerich has conducted annual studies every fall since 2004 surveying more than 7,000 shoppers at its 72 centers that seek to identify elements that draw and keep shoppers coming. Based on that data, the company is convinced that fountains can play a role in increasing sales. According to the surveys, shoppers identify fountains along with attractive tenant mixes, mall cleanliness and safety as key contributors to positive experiences.

“There is a very distinct line to increased sales,” says Ken Gillett, senior vice president for property management. “Our findings show that the customers who have a positive experience spend $25 more per visit. … Today, given the economic climate, creating the right atmosphere is more important.”

That data played a role in the company’s decision to employ a wall fountain on a new parking deck at its shopping center The Oaks, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. There, water cascades down a colorful mosaic of tiles. It deadens the noise of passing vehicles and helps establish the overall ambiance of the center for its shoppers before they even set foot inside the center.

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