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U.S. Malls Making a Comeback: Study

Visits heating up as inflation cools.

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PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Although U.S. malls were hit hard over the past few years, as lockdowns and rising costs contributed to a significant drop in foot traffic, shopping centers have proven resilient, a new white paper from data analyst Placer.ai concludes. Leading players in the sector have been reinventing themselves and exploring alternate ways to draw in crowds. Further boosting malls’ prospect is the cooling of inflation.

This white paper analyzes the Placer.ai Shopping Center Industry – a collection of over 3000 shopping centers across the United States – as well as the Placer.ai’s Mall Indexes, which focus on top-tier Indoor Malls, Open-Air Shopping Centers, Outlet Malls. The report examines how visits are shifting and where behaviors are changing – and where they’re staying the same – and takes a closer look at the strategies malls are using to attract shoppers in 2024.

(Related: For a look at how malls continue to multiply on a global scale, see “It’s a Mall World After All” from the March/April 2024 edition of VMSD.)

Here are five key takeaways from the Placer.ai paper:

#1 Mall visits are returning to pre-COVID levels. Although foot traffic to shopping centers took a hit over the pandemic, analyzing visit trends from the past couple of years reveals that most types of malls are seeing their visits slowly but surely return to their pre-COVID baseline.

#2 While the visit distribution during the week has remained stable, the hour visit distribution has shifted. The relative share of mall visitors going to malls on weekdays vs. weekends remained stable between 2019 and 2023. But people are taking advantage of flexible work schedules to make more afternoon trips to malls while slowing the pace of morning and late evening visits.

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#3 Experiences are key in driving mall traffic. Adding entertainment or dining options can help bring crowds in – and keep them there. When sporting goods retailer Scheels opened one of its mega-stores in an Arizona mall, visits jumped – and remained high for the following months. Other malls received visit boosts following the additions of new dining and entertainment options like Texas Roadhouse and Main Event, indicating that shoppers are responsive to many kinds of retail.

#4 Pop-ups are a powerful tool to drive traffic. When fast-fashion retailer Shein opened a pop-up in December 2023, visits not only jumped significantly compared to the December daily average, they also matched those of the most important retail event of the month – Super Saturday, which coincided with Christmas Eve.

#5 Luxury is winning everywhere, but especially in Sunbelt States. Malls are adding high-end and designer stores at a rapid clip as demand for luxury goods soars. And Sunbelt States like Texas, Florida, and Arizona – all of which experienced influxes of wealthy newcomers – are seeing some of the strongest luxury mall visit patterns.

Click here to register and download the paper.

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