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Mall vs. Shopping Center — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Published on October 26, 2023
Mall refers to a large enclosed shopping area with various stores and often entertainment facilities; a shopping center is a collection of individual retail stores and services in one area, not necessarily enclosed.
Mall vs. Shopping Center — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Mall and Shopping Center


Key Differences

Mall and shopping center are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, there are subtle differences between the two. A mall typically refers to a large, enclosed retail structure. This enclosure provides shoppers with a convenient environment, shielded from the external elements, making it suitable for year-round shopping. On the other hand, a shopping center is a collection of retail stores and services that may or may not be enclosed.
The concept of a mall usually implies a larger space, often with a variety of stores, restaurants, and sometimes entertainment facilities such as cinemas or arcades. They may even have aesthetic elements like fountains or seating areas. Shopping centers, by contrast, may be smaller in scale, with a few stores grouped together, often sharing a common parking area.
Malls often serve as major landmarks and community hubs. They attract a large crowd, especially during weekends and holidays. Shopping centers, however, might be more localized, catering primarily to the needs of the nearby community. While a mall may draw shoppers from various towns or even states, a shopping center primarily targets local residents.
In essence, while all malls can be termed shopping centers due to their function, not all shopping centers can be termed malls due to their size, features, and the scope of services they offer. Both, however, play pivotal roles in modern retail and serve as gathering places for consumers.

Comparison Chart


Usually larger.
Can be smaller in scale.


Typically enclosed.
May or may not be enclosed.

Services & Facilities

Offers wider range of services & entertainment.
Primarily retail, less emphasis on entertainment

Target Audience

Wider, can draw from various locations.
More localized, caters to nearby residents.


Often have aesthetic elements.
Functional, might lack aesthetic elements.

Compare with Definitions


A large enclosed building with a variety of stores.
I bought a new jacket at the mall yesterday.

Shopping Center

A collection of retail shops and services.
We visited the shopping center to pick up groceries.


A public promenade or walkway.
They strolled down the mall enjoying the evening air.

Shopping Center

A retail hub often with shared parking.
The parking lot at the shopping center was full due to the sale.


A game played with a mallet and ball.
We watched a historic demonstration of mall at the local park.

Shopping Center

A locale for both purchasing and leisure activities.
The shopping center often hosts weekend farmer's markets.


A grassy area used for public gatherings.
The community event will take place at the central mall.

Shopping Center

A commercial complex offering goods and services.
The shopping center near my house has a dentist and a shoe store.


An area designated for shopping and social activities.
The new mall downtown has both shops and restaurants.

Shopping Center

An outdoor plaza with multiple retailers.
The new shopping center has a pet store and a bakery.


A large, often enclosed shopping complex containing various stores, businesses, and restaurants usually accessible by common passageways.


A street lined with shops and closed to vehicles.


A shady public walk or promenade.


Chiefly Upstate New York See median.


A pedestrianised street, especially a shopping precinct.


An enclosed shopping centre.


(obsolete) An alley where the game of pall mall was played.


A public walk; a level shaded walk, a promenade.


A heavy wooden mallet or hammer used in the game of pall mall.


(obsolete) The game of polo.


(obsolete) An old game played with malls or mallets and balls; pall mall.


To beat with a mall, or mallet; to beat with something heavy; to bruise


To build up with the development of shopping malls


(informal) to shop at the mall


A large heavy wooden beetle; a mallet for driving anything with force; a maul.


A heavy blow.


An old game played with malls or mallets and balls. See Pall-mall.


A place where the game of mall was played. Hence: A public walk; a level shaded walk.
Part of the area was laid out in gravel walks, and planted with elms; and these convenient and frequented walks obtained the name of the City Mall.


Formerly, among Teutonic nations, a meeting of the notables of a state for the transaction of public business, such meeting being a modification of the ancient popular assembly.
Councils, which had been as frequent as diets or malls, ceased.


A public access area containing a promenade for pedestrians; as, to gather near the Washington monument on the mall in Washington.


The paved or grassy strip between two roadways.


A shopping area with multiple shops and a concourse for predominantly or exclusively pedestrian use; in cities the concourse is usually a city street which may be temporarily or permamently closed to motor vehicles; in suburban areas, a mall is often located on a convenient highway, may be large, contained in one building or in multiple buildings connected by (usually covered) walkways. Also called shopping mall


To beat with a mall; to beat with something heavy; to bruise; to maul.


A public area set aside as a pedestrian walk


Mercantile establishment consisting of a carefully landscaped complex of shops representing leading merchandisers; usually includes restaurants and a convenient parking area; a modern version of the traditional marketplace;
A good plaza should have a movie house
They spent their weekends at the local malls

Common Curiosities

Which typically has a larger footprint: a mall or a shopping center?

Malls usually occupy a larger space compared to many shopping centers.

What's the primary difference between a mall and a shopping center?

A mall is typically a large, enclosed shopping area, while a shopping center can be an unenclosed collection of stores.

Are shopping centers always open-air?

Not always. Shopping centers can be either open-air or enclosed.

Do malls have more amenities than shopping centers?

Generally, malls offer a wider range of amenities and entertainment compared to smaller shopping centers.

Do shopping centers cater to a local audience?

Often, shopping centers cater more to local residents, whereas malls can draw people from broader areas.

Are malls typically found in urban areas?

Malls can be found in both urban and suburban areas, depending on the regional demand and real estate availability.

Are all malls shopping centers?

Yes, all malls can be considered shopping centers, but not all shopping centers are malls.

Can malls have open-air sections?

Yes, some modern malls incorporate open-air sections or promenades for a mixed experience.

Is it easier to expand a shopping center than a mall?

Expansion depends on various factors, but open-air shopping centers might have more flexible expansion options.

Are shopping centers older than malls?

Both have historical precedents, but the modern enclosed mall concept started in the mid-20th century.

Can shopping centers be themed or specialized?

Yes, some shopping centers might cater to specific niches or themes, like antiques or local crafts.

Do shopping centers typically have common parking areas?

Yes, shopping centers usually have shared parking areas for customers of all their stores.

Are malls only for shopping?

No, malls often feature entertainment options, dining, and other services beyond retail.

Can a shopping center have entertainment facilities?

Yes, some larger shopping centers might have entertainment facilities, though it's more common in malls.

Are malls more commercialized than shopping centers?

Malls often house larger chain retailers, but both malls and shopping centers can be commercialized depending on their tenants.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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