The demise of the American mall is talked about so often and so regularly — just look at the abundance of shuttered store photos and headlines about how the mall is “dead” — that many take it for fact.
Between the rise of online shopping and lessons gleaned from the pandemic, who wants to spend hours strolling through a poorly-circulated building?
Don’t Expect the Mall to Die Any Time Soon
But as the latest traffic data from Placer.ai shows, the truth is actually far more complicated than the cliché — while visits to indoor malls fell by over 30% between February 2021 and 2019, traffic bounces back quickly as Covid cases fall.
During the week of February 7, visits were down 15.5% year-over-year at indoor malls, 14.2% at outdoor malls, and 18.2% at outlet malls from 2020. By February 21, visits were up 8.2% at indoor malls, 2.2% at outdoor malls and 1.1% at outlet malls — in some cases, doing better than they were pre-pandemic.
On a monthly level, bad foot traffic also corresponds with periods when omicron cases were highest across the country; as the numbers went down, people started coming to malls more often. In July 2021, visits to indoor malls were up 0.9% from 2019 but, by September 2021, they had once again fallen by 8%.
“The rise of Omicron cases drove a major setback to the brick and mortar retail recovery in January,” Ethan Chernofsky, vice president of marketing at Placer.ai, said in a statement. “Yet, even record breaking cases proved to drive just a short lived decline in visits.”
What Kind of Mall Trends Can We See in the Future?
As the numbers above show, mall traffic has a tendency to bounce back up after pandemic-related drops — and, in general, the mall itself is undergoing a massive shift as large complexes get repurposed to have more entertainment, dining and athletic features.
Some developers, like the ones behind the $6 billion, 3.5-million-square-foot American Dream, are putting serious funds behind this prediction. Even as it faces serious financial trouble, the retail and entertainment complex in New Jersey’s East Rutherford was slated to have not just stores but a LEGOland, a Nickolodeon-themed amusement park with indoor roller coasters, and indoor skiing.
“Malls have once again proven their resilience and relevance despite the serious obstacles that stood in the way,” reads the report. “Foot traffic data shows that visits are bouncing back, with some months in 2021 even exceeding 2019 visit levels.”