From Surviving to Thriving during the Retail Apocalypse

Since 2010, grim headlines have dominated news feeds with ominous warnings about the death of the shopping mall—a phenomenon the media has dubbed the “retail apocalypse.” However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Around the world, determined retailers are adapting to meet the needs of their community by providing unique experiences that cannot be found online. Entertainment and dining are breathing new life into malls. This shift is turning the retail centers of the past into mixed-use spaces which house everything from casinos to room escape games to boutique fitness studios. 

In 2019, over 9300 locations of national chain stores closed, crippling the smaller retail shops that rely on anchor stores for foot traffic. Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale, Illinois, where Joe O’Connell co-owns ClubPhotoBooth with his husband, is a stark example. Stores in Stratford Square Mall struggle to maintain foot traffic after Macy’s and Sears closed down. Taking matters into his own hands, O’Connell signed up ClubPhotoBooth as a Wish Local partner to bring in new customers.

One of many colorful spaces at Club PhotoBooth

ClubPhotoBooth began as a home-based business, providing quirky backdrops and photo booth rentals for events like weddings and corporate parties. After achieving a certain level of success, O’Connell took a brave leap of faith by opening his brick and mortar store. For $20, locals can spend half an hour taking selfies in one of many “colorful immersive spaces” designed and built by O’Connell and husband. For a more luxurious experience, photographers are available for services ranging from family photos to professional headshots. 

Holiday portrait session at Club Photobooth

It wasn’t long after opening that O’Connell realized he would need to find alternate sources of foot traffic. “It’s been a struggle; I’m not going to lie…The reality is that our services are a bit pricey for our demographic that we have here in the mall. So we had to adapt and start figuring out different ways to bring in additional clients and adapt our business practices to fit more of the demographic.”

Since joining Wish Local, O’Connell has enjoyed increased foot traffic, doing five to six pickups per day. He estimates that about one in every six Wish customers converts into a sale. O’Connell notes, “We’re not a retail store where we’re selling $20 items. We’re selling a $125 photo package to these people, so [the extra sales] make a huge difference in my monthly revenue.” 

It’s not just ClubPhotoBooth that benefits from the Wish Local partnership. “I do have to say the mall loves us because of the Wish program,” O’Connell says. “It’s a struggling mall, and the new owners are constantly looking for ways to bring in new people.” Also surprising is the way the partnership taps into community nostalgia. O’Connell continues, “A customer will come in to pick up a Wish order and say, ‘I had no idea you were here. I haven’t been to this mall since I was a teenager!'” 

Club PhotoBooth is pet friendly!

A small business joining forces with a large e-commerce company like Wish may seem like an unlikely pairing. However, forward-thinking business owners like O’Connell are harnessing the popularity of online marketplaces to enhance their businesses.

O’Connell knowingly took a risk opening in a mall amidst a bleak retail forecast; but that gamble has paid off. Big things are on the horizon for ClubPhotoBooth with significant expansion plans in 2020. Residents of Bloomingdale will soon be able to visit a brand new event space where they can have their photograph taken in even more of ClubPhotoBooth’s signature “experiential spaces.” With such a picture perfect outcome one has to wonder, “what retail apocalypse?”