September created an opportunity for malls to take a significant step forward, with signs that some of the economic headwinds were dissipating, according to a report this week from Placer.ai.
However, there is still ground to make up, the data analyst firm said, as visits to malls of various types showcase “resiliency.”
During September, visits were down 0.9% at indoor malls compared to 2021, and they were down 1.8% at OALCs and down 4.5% at outlet malls.
For indoor and outlet malls, those figures are improvements compared to July and August.
“But gaps remain,” according to the report. “While the numbers aren’t bad compared to last year, comparing them to 2019 leaves a lot to be desired.”
Placer.ai reported that during September, visits were down 10.1% at indoor malls, 10.2% at OALCs, and down 11.3% at outlet malls, compared to 2019.
A Week in Sept Indicates Optimism
But traffic is improving, lately. A look at the weekly data shows visits ticking up as of the week of Sept. 19.
Compared to the previous week, visits then were up 2.6% at indoor malls, 1.7% at OALCs, and 2.5% at outlet malls — a good sign as the holiday season approaches.
At Simon Malls, Laura Schwartz, Regional Vice President, tells GlobeSt.com that her company continues to invest in its properties, bringing in new retailers, adding additional product types and maintaining our properties.
“We’ve seen particularly strong traffic at centers such as Burlington Mall and Northshore in the Boston market that have recently gone through extensive redevelopments,” Schwartz said.
Year-Over-Year Data Must Be Referenced
David Greensfelder, managing principal of Greensfelder Real Estate, tells GlobeSt.com that while shopping malls may be attempting to position themselves for the holidays, the task may be as futile.
“Owners as sailing into a storm: larger forces are going to carry the season, and it’s going to be difficult to steer an individual mall’s performance in light of them,” Greensfelder said.
“Consider that the economy is sending mixed signals such as month-over-month consumer confidence index numbers being at odds with continued inflation and higher borrowing costs.
“While retailers’ excess inventory (created by supply chain disruptions) and related price reductions may be driving some shoppers to stores, it’s important to focus on year-over-year numbers and not at what happened last month or two months ago.
Greensfelder said that the year-over-year numbers confirm that mall footfalls are down compared with 2021 and certainly before the pandemic, fundamentally changing how we shop for goods and services, particularly for commodities.
“The trend of consumers ‘trading down’ and retailers rightsizing their fleets (ie. closures) confirm this hypothesis,” he said.
Greensfelder pointed to trends that seem to be positively impacting some malls include the strength of urban areas, digitally native brand growth (particularly those where there is a hybrid digital and bricks-and-mortar strategy), and fitness.
“Those positives are dampened by malls benefiting less from luxury brand bounce-back, and restaurant visits (all categories) being flat to down,” he said.
Preserving the ‘Heart and Soul’
Doug Ressler, manager, business intelligence, tells GlobeSt.com that shopping malls have been defined as “the heart and soul of communities” and have been under severe pressure from the proliferation of e-commerce and other forces.
“In-person shopping providers are leveraging technology to help their consumers engage the new range of mall experiences before, during and after a visit,” Ressler said.
Tech-driven experiences include or will include:
- Interactive kiosks that deliver product information and promotional messaging;
- Smart touch screens that could help keep shoppers in stores longer and buying more;
- Interactive wayfinding that helps shoppers pick up items acquired through BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store);
- Systems that combine digital signage and IoT sensors for queue management and emergency notifications;
- Large digital video walls that deliver news, weather, ads and other content;
- Augmented and virtual reality tech that lets customers digitally test products.
Moody’s: Malls Must ‘Dynamically Serve Consumers in Digital Age’
According to Moody’s report The Mall of the Future: How Regional Malls Will Survive a Rapidly Changing Retail Industry issued in September, malls will need to revamp their business models and tenant mixes to survive.
It starts with “dynamically serving consumers of the digital age” although brick-and-mortar stores will continue to be a critical part of retailers’ strategies.
“That is particularly true for regional malls, since among brick-and-mortar property types, the traditional mall is most directly disintermediated by e-commerce,” according to Moody’s.
Regional malls will continue to exist – and many estimate that roughly one in five of the over 1,000 US malls will remain as malls, Moody’s said – but the “mall of the future” will have a diverse set of draws beyond conventional department store anchors.
Implementing an “omnichannel” strategy is now critical, not optional, according to the report.
Online sales as a share of total US sales will grow further, however, a large majority of retail sales will still occur in physical stores, Moody’s said.
“Even where online sales do supplant in-store sales, e-commerce is becoming less cannibalistic and more intertwined in a holistic approach to retailing,” according to the report. “This involves integrating the traditionally siloed tasks of sales, marketing, customer service, and inventory management across all digital and physical channels to form efficiencies and connect with customers by every means possible.”
Regional Mall Business Model Shifting
Successful mall operators will aim to drive rent and foot traffic beyond the traditional model of department store anchors. To do so, it must rethink how to use primary spaces, according to the Moody’s report.
“The limited number of traditional retailers available to backfill mall vacancies, especially large anchor spaces, means landlords must be willing to look to certain national big box retailers, entertainment businesses, sporting goods, high-volume restaurants, or some mix of alternative uses such as logistics, residential, medical office, or service-based retail,” it said.
Shorter term lengths and mall performance contingency provisions will force landlords to share more in the risks of their tenants, according to Moody’s.
“Some malls will fail because operators will not have (or choose not to deploy) the capital to do necessary reformatting. All of this makes it ever more important to have a sophisticated, well-capitalized mall operator to survive the rapidly changing retail world.”
Give What Online Shopping Can’t Give ‘You’
J. Wickham Zimmerman, CEO of Outside the Lines, tells GlobeSt.com, that it is unsurprising that malls are experiencing a resurgence after the public has been spending so much time at home over the past 2.5-plus years.
“The desire to reconnect with the world around them and return to a more ‘normal’ way of life is palpable,” Zimmerman said. “As consumers seek the experiences that they have been missing all these months, it is incumbent upon retail center owners and operators to provide environments that deliver what people cannot get from online shopping.
“An essential part of these environments are amenities like outdoor water features that draw in visitors, provide dazzling and beautiful displays, and help drive foot traffic for these venues.
“With the holidays approaching, water features at retail centers can present spectacular holiday-themed shows, lighting, and effects that captivate shoppers and make these centers true destinations for locals and visitors. The addition of water features has a positive impact on retail sales, while increasing property value and providing a safe place for people to gather in the post-COVID era.”