Is The Shopping Mall Culture Dying in America?
It is time to reinvent malls because they still play a central role in urban and suburban cities.
Dozens of malls have closed in the last decade. Nobody seems to be safe since other anchor stores are also at risk (Macy’s, JCPenney, Radioshack, K-mart and Sears). The retail apocalypse seems to have officially taken over the US. More and more suburban shopping centers are left behind as the online retail industry continues to forge forward on its path to success. The decreasing sales are creating all sort of problems for the once thriving culture of malls and iconic anchor stores in America.
Dead malls are popping up all over the states. It seems that in the Midwest, the epidemic is creating fatalities among shopping places. Today thousands of empty suburban malls haunt the American landscape. There is even a website called DeadMalls.com which is systematically documenting the decline of the shopping culture in the country.
The almighty online retail world is offering multiple and convenient shopping options. Americans are faced with having to choose the best way to satisfy their purchasing needs: it is the battle between the online and offline worlds. As a result, more and more stores are leaving malls. The question is simple, will the mall culture survive? The answer is more complex than it seems.
CoStar estimates that nearly a quarter of malls in the US, or roughly 310 of the nation’s 1,300 shopping malls, are at high risk of losing an anchor store. On the other hand, Credit Suisse projects about 8,640 US retail stores will close by the end of year, a far greater number than any year in the recent past, and worse than at the height of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Overall, they expect up to 25% of US malls to close by 2022.
Videographer Dan Bell has been documenting America’s shopping crisis through his YouTube series Dead Malls. Bell travels the country discovering these dying / abandoned properties. His works are “informative tours of some of the most depressed shopping malls in the mid-atlantic region and beyond.”
Last week, Amazon’s announced its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods. Not only was the retail world shocked, the entire world was as well. This is the company’s first deal for more than $1 billion. The internet giant is adding a network of more than 450 physical stores to its portfolio. What this means is that the supermarket experience, and retailing experience, is about to start a new chapter. Other competitors are now faced with the dilemma of dealing with a very powerful player who happens to dictate the online retail industry.
With the current scenario, it is important to ask, is it really the US shopping mall culture dying or this is just mere transformation? Whatever the case, someone needs to start working on reinventing the mall experience. A good attempt was what J.C. Penney tried to do under Ron Johnson, its former and controversial CEO. He wanted to use the stores as places not only to shop but to hang out – a street inside each store. The problem with this concept was that sales were not good enough to cover the renovation costs. Second, and hypothetically speaking, even if the sales were amazing, the stores would have stayed in the malls – the ones nobody is visiting. Big conundrum indeed!
The problem is so complex, that malls are appealing to some extreme measures. For example, a Hampton mall, in Michigan, is offering free first year’s rent on retail space. “For the past five years, a majority of the once-bustling mall in Bay County’s Hampton Township has sat empty, its out-of-season Christmas decorations preserved under fogged-over skylights.”, reports Mlive Michigan.
The world of retail is changing speedily, but the mall still plays a central role in urban and suburban cities. Maybe it is time for mall operators to start thinking more about customers and their experiences and not just as properties managers.
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