Manila is a shopper’s paradise. With over 150 malls and counting, it is dubbed as “Asia’s Shopping Capital”. From stalls to boutiques, tiangges to supermalls, and plazas to gardens, Metro Manila has it all for you. Malls have shaped the Filipino culture and economy for the past century, but they may ultimately change in the following decades.
The first enclosed mall in the Philippines was the Crystal Arcade along Escolta Street. It featured a walkway to numerous shops on the first floor. Today, malls have evolved to multi-story buildings with groceries, shops, rides, cinemas, skating rinks, and other attractions—serving as a convenient hub to Filipinos. Malls also house satellite government agency branches and transport terminals. Whether you want to pass time or complete a series of tasks, a mall is a great place to start with.
Consequently, demand for mall retail space rose. Malls have developed a significance to Filipinos that has made us use “malling” as a verb. Even though household expenditure slowed down last year, Filipinos would still flock local malls daily. Capitalistic ideas inspired by malls may have consumed the minds of Filipinos.
Malls have become an alternative park for Filipinos. Instead of desiring for green spaces, Filipinos have opted for air-conditioned multi-level concrete structures. Convenience has made Metro Manila a lackluster concrete jungle. Earlier city planners had more green spaces planned. The Quezon Masterplan of 1941 and 1949 both included a central park bounded by the North, East, West, and Timog Avenues. Today, the what-could-have-been Diliman Quadrangle houses Trinoma and SM North EDSA. The Diliman Quadrangle never came into fruition as orders and proclamations reduced its size to the current Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center. In this case, there was sufficient planning, but execution throughout the years was overlooked.
With every blossoming city comes a brand new SM mall. It all started with a shoe store in downtown Manila. SM has then expanded to 67 branches across the country. This has made Henry Sy Sr. the richest Filipino for the ninth consecutive year. His wealth has come with criticism though. Regular employees enjoy benefits provided by the company. Meanwhile, contractual employees remain miserable as short tenures warrant cyclical job opportunities and no promotions. A contractor provides employees to conglomerates. The contractors are liable to their employees, but these conglomerates must step in to ensure that no abuse is made. SM has been accused of neglecting employee well-being, but steps have been made to alleviate problems.
In the United States, the death of malls is evident. Store fronts are becoming empty as people shift into online shopping. Many start-ups have also centered marketing of products around e-commerce. With just a few clicks, your order will be on its way to your doorstep. Amazon even provides deliveries within the day. Compare this to scouring the whole mall and walking for hours just for a specific item. Meanwhile, the Philippines is slowly growing its online shopping experience with the operation of Lazada and Zalora. Smaller stores also operate within Facebook and other social media platforms. Online shopping may not be as effective to Filipinos as to Americans due to lack of facilities.
Online shopping is the future. However, our internet connectivity and postal service remains inefficient as a foundation for an emerging sector. Malls also continue to innovate by adding green spaces and more options to consumers. Not only do malls provide retail space, but they also deliver a convenient community center for the neighborhood. They will remain a significant part of Filipino culture and economy for the years to come.