Before asking how you build the largest shopping mall in the world, you should really ask yourself, ‘where should I build it?’

The ‘dead mall’

The current holder of the title of world’s biggest shopping mall – New South China Mall in Dongguan – was largely deserted when the last shop count was performed in 2013, with 80% of the available units unoccupied.

When construction finished in 2005, it had high ambitions to be a thriving shopping district, attracting upwards of 100,000 shoppers a day.

However, it became quickly apparent that the mall faced some significant hurdles:

  1. The mall is nowhere near a major highway
  2. It is located in a factory town, but caters to consumers
  3. It is absolutely enormous

The mall covers a staggering 659,612 square meters of leasable space. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly the size of the Disneyland lot in California.

And even though Dongguan has a population of 10 million, the majority are migrant factory workers who don’t have the time to spend wandering around a shopping complex or the means to actually purchase anything.

By 2012, New South China Mall was classified as a ‘dead mall’.

A special case 

But Dongguan’s behemoth is by no means the standard for super malls. The second largest mall in the world – Beijing’s Golden Resources Shopping – might also struggle with footfall due to its location and prices, but outside China the story is different.

The world’s third largest mall – SM City North EDSA in the Philippines – has a floor area of 498,000 square metres and attracts over four million people every weekend.

Located on a major road that splits the capital Manila and the most populous city Quezon City, SM City North EDSA contains a bowling alley, a hypermarket, a 12-cinema complex and its own Sky Garden.

What about the UK?

The United Kingdom has four shopping centres in the top 100, but none in the top 50.

Trafford Centre in Manchester comes in at number 60, with 207,000 square metres of space, while MetroCentre in Dunston is the 74th largest mall in the world, with 180,000 square metres of space.

Westfield Stratford City comes in at 78th, at 175,000 square metres. The mall holds the distinction of being the first large-scale use of Pavegen floor tiles to harness the kinetic energy of busy shoppers.

Bluewater in Kent sneaks into the top 100 at 94th, with a floor space of 154,000 square metres.

Back from the dead?

All these malls have two things in common: they are easily accessible from populous areas and they cater to the right consumers.

New South China Mall recently saw an uplift in visitors thanks to its change of direction. By attracting more retailers and restaurants that target China’s middle class, New South China Mall has started to attract customers.

“Many large malls (and residential construction) in China…. are all hoping to target one demographic — the upper class,” Economist Brian Jackson told CNN last year.

“What is needed to succeed is retail space that caters to (the much larger) bulk of middle-class Chinese.”

How do you build the largest mall in the world?

So, it turns out that no matter its size, a retail business has the same key concerns as any other: it needs to be easily accessible to customers and it needs to attract the right sort of shopper.

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