With the ever-growing popularity of online retail and discount stores, many industry watchers are waiting to call time of death on malls.

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But the younger cohort of shoppers — known commonly as Millennials — could be key to their survival, as long as they're willing to step inside.

Malls throughout the state are making changes — some big, some small — to attract this younger batch of consumers.

On Oct. 26, Spanish fashion chain Zara opened its doors at the Freehold Raceway Mall. According to Debra Panzarella, the mall's senior manager of marketing, the trendy clothing and accessory store is a big draw for the 18-to-34 crowd. In fact, it was on the list of the most requested stores among consumers.

"It's a hot new store and we're happy to have it," Panzarella said.

But even the tiniest additions can make a big difference, including more spots to "plug in," as well as the mall's text concierge program.

"We try to answer within a minute or two of the text coming in. It is a live person on the other end," Panzarella said. "I think we have a very tech-savvy customer in the mall."

In Paramus, Westfield Garden State Plaza recently introduced its new-look food court. The goal was to achieve an "urban bistro" atmosphere, from the chairs and tables to the eventual transition into different food vendors.

According to Dr. Archana Kumar, an associate professor with the Feliciano School of Business at Montclair State University, Millennials may be the generation that saves malls "from the throes of death."

"To achieve this, malls need to transform the way they provide experiences to Millennials," Kumar said. "Not all malls have succeeded, but they are trying out various strategies to survive in this competitive retail landscape."

Kumar pointed to pop-up versions of online-only stores and the introduction of "escape the room" adventures and IMAX movie theaters.

"Since Millennials prefer experiences over physical goods, malls need to rethink themselves as experience providers," she said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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