Advertisement
08/11/2021

Placer.ai: Mall resurgence begins!

Al Urbanski
Real Estate Editor & Manager
Al Urbanski profile picture
Macerich's renovated Scottsdale Fashion Square has drawn traffic above 2019 levels since April.

The crowded, enclosed environment that caused malls to be one of the major economic casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic is now making them the comeback kids of post-pandemic America.

That’s the postulation made by foot traffic analytics company Placer.ai after its study of traffic patterns at 100 indoor malls and 100 outdoor outlet malls and lifestyle centers across the U.S. over the past two years.

While real estate industry analysts largely predicted that vacancy rates in indoor malls would continue to exceed those in outdoor centers through the end of 2021, the traffic numbers in Placer.ai’s just-released white paper, “Mall Deep Dive – Summer 2021 – reveal a marked resurgence of indoor shopping.

Comparing store visits from 2021 against 2019, Placer.ai had malls down by 29% and outdoor centers lagging by 20% in February. By May, indoor centers had pulled almost even at just 1% off, while malls trailed at a deficit of 9%. In July, however, when traffic posted at outdoor sites moved 2% ahead of ’19, indoor malls managed to match their 2019 numbers for the month.

“The end of malls is not as near as some may think,” said the Placer.ai white paper. “The combination of cold weather, shoppers returning to their pre-COVID routines, and Americans looking for a comfortable space to congregate with their friends and family after a long period of isolation may drive indoor mall visits even further up.”

Long popular malls that underwent renovations in the past three years—adding such new traffic-builders such as apartments, offices, and medical centers—have already begun to surpass 2019 numbers. Scottsdale Fashion Square in Arizona moved ahead of its headcounts of two years ago in April and has continued the trend since. Also moving ahead in July were Westfield Garden State Plaza and Galleria Dallas.

Placer.ai has discovered, too, that shoppers are spending more time in malls than they did during the pandemic, when shopping turned into fast-paced grab-and-go operations. But with vaccination rates getting higher and newly reported cases dropping lower, consumers began reverting to previous shopping behavior. In June 2020, the median length of stay for indoor malls was 53 minutes. By July 2021, it had climbed to 69 minutes.

Another key measure that has returned to pre-pandemic levels is True Trade Area (TTA). People did their best to stay close to home during the pandemic, causing the average TTA of the 100 malls studied by Placer.ai to drop from 160 square miles to 146. In June 2021, the average TTA returned to 159 square miles.

Placer.ai analysts maintain that the more these well-located and newly renovated malls refine their shopper experiences, the greater their chances will be to become as popular—if not more popular—than they were before.

“[Retail] brands that place a greater emphasis on owning creating unique and authentic experiences that drive longer-term omnichannel value…will benefit from investing in in-mall locations,” the white paper held. “Regional hubs also create tremendous reach and provide logistical value for returns and last-mile distribution.”