As Retail Industry Reels, Malls Look to Reinvent Shopping Experience

Busy shopping mall

The malls of America are dying, but the ones that survive are reinventing themselves and adapting to changing consumer demands and competition. Online giants like Amazon, and superstores like Costco and Walmart, prompt retailers from small businesses like the Sunglass Hut to anchor stores like Macy’s that found stability in mall foot traffic to tweak their business models.  However, malls had already oversaturated the retail landscape in the United States.

From 1956 through 2005, 1,500 malls opened in the United States, 1,100 remained by 2017, and a quarter of them are at risk of closing, according to Time magazine. Reporter Josh Sanburn writes in “Why the Death of Malls is About More Than Shopping” that malls were a place to socialize as well as shop, but the way we do both changed drastically. “Our digital lives are frictionless and ruthlessly efficient, with retail and romance available at a click. Malls were designed for leisure, abundance, ambling. You parked and planned to spend some time. Today, much of that time has been given over to busier lives and second jobs and apps that let you swipe right instead of haunt the food court,” Sanburn writes.

The “retail apocalypse” started in 2010, fueled by Amazon and Walmart’s growth, curbed spending habits after the Great Recession, and declining malls. Many retailers survived by closing less profitable stores and expanding their e-commerce, writes Leo Sun for MSN Money.

Sun predicts that retailers that may not survive 2018 include Sears, Sears Hometown & Outlet stores, J.C. Penney, Barnes & Noble, Office Depot, GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, Vitamin World, Foot Locker, Payless, and Charlotte Russe.  Additionally, Toys R Us and Annie Sez have announced closures. Bankruptcies have hit retailers like Aeropostale, The Limited, Aerosoles, True Religion, RadioShack, Wet Seal, American Apparel, Papaya, Bob’s, and Perfumania and a host of others over the past three years. Guitar Center and PetSmart also face troubled futures.

The Wall Street Journal reports that mall vacancies are at a six-year high, as 6,400 stores closed in 2017, and another 3,600 will follow in 2018. The hundreds of closed malls had changed little in response to changing consumer demand, convenience, tastes, and buying habits. The ones surviving are transforming the shopping experience into a shopping, entertainment, and dining. For example, the massive American Dream Meadowlands retail and entertainment complex set to open in 2019 in New Jersey will feature a Nickelodeon amusement park component, indoor ski slope, IMAX theaters, and other activities to get consumers to spend money and time with their families.