The New South China Mall in Dongguan, China is the biggest in the world. With an area of over 7 million square feet that can accommodate 2,350 stores, and attractions such as roller coasters, ghost trains and a replica of the bell tower of St Mark’s Square in Venice, you would think the place would be swarming with people. So did the owners of the mall, who expected over 70,000 visitors a day when they started building it. But today it stands empty, with almost no customers entering its gates. The 553 meter indoor and outdoor roller coaster hasn’t been operated since it was installed and 99% of the shops have never been leased out. The only ones that do operate are a series of fast food joints at the entrance of the mall and another few shops inside the huge complex.
New South China Mall was built in 2005 by Hu Guirong, who made his millions making instant noodles. He started the project with great enthusiasm, sending teams all over the world in search of ideas for his dream mall. And most of these ideas were even translated into reality. Where else in the world would be able to see a gondola on a mock Venetian canal inside a mall? But then something went horribly wrong, because when the place was completed in 2005, it simply failed to take off. It wasn’t even a dead mall, where tenants simply depart and business winds down slowly. No, Guirong’s mall never attracted merchants in the first place, as they felt it wasn’t a realistic place to set up shop.
The failure of New South China mall has surprised many, especially since China’s consumer culture is growing by the day. According to retail analyst David Hand, “The Chinese people love shopping, they love brands, and they love international products, even though the average income is low. New shoppers are born every day. We won’t run out of them.” But some people aren’t surprised that the it failed to take off. Retail consultant Dick Groves says that New South China mall failed due to inexperience in the leasing business and the lack of a sound financial system. “When it’s easy to get financing without having to convince someone of the project’s feasibility, and without having to show pre-leasing commitment, you can start to get into trouble,” he points out.
It’s rather sad to see pictures of the deserted mall. All that space, hard work, money and resources gone to waste. Well, if you would like to take a closer look at its interiors, a documentary is available on YouTube called “Utopia Part 3: the World’s Largest Shopping Mall”. Made by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Sam Green, the documentary premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. The film offers several explanations for the failure of the colossal project.