A rebound to above pre-pandemic levels in mall foot traffic data defies predictions that the outbreak would accelerate the demise of malls, while painting a picture of lockdown-weary Americans itching to go out and shop, a new report shows.
Foot traffic at a sample of 100 indoor malls and 100 major outdoor outlet malls and lifestyle centers in July was up 0.7 percent compared to July 2019, according to a report from analytics firm Placer.ai obtained by The Epoch Times.
July marked the first month of mall visits exceeding 2019 figures, the benchmark Placer.ai opted to use rather than 2020, when foot traffic data fell off a cliff due to lockdowns and so offers a less meaningful comparison.
“Many speculated that the era of malls was coming to a close even before movement and gathering restrictions placed unprecedented stress on these hallmarks of American retail,” the report’s authors noted.
“Although a post-COVID rebound may have seemed unlikely to some, location data shows that mall foot traffic is in fact recovering, as both visits and consumer behavior return to pre-COVID patterns,” they added.
With the back-to-school shopping season around the corner, analysts at Placer.ai expect an even sharper mall visit rebound in August.
“Going into the fall, a strong Back to School season could be enough to tip the scales and deliver a full recovery to many shopping centers across the country.”
But the recovery remains uneven, with July foot traffic at outdoor malls 2.1 percent higher than in the comparable month in 2019, while indoor foot traffic remains 0.1 percent down. Still, analysts at Placer.ai said the difference between the indoor and outdoor malls is getting smaller as the effects of COVID-19 dissipate.
“Consumers come to malls not just to shop, but also for the food courts and entertainment options which are generally more diverse and abundant at indoor venues,” they wrote. “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.”
While malls had been on a downward trend in recent years as shopping patterns have shifted online, the Placer.ai report is bullish on the future of shopping malls.
“An increasing focus on better balancing the proportion of space dedicated to retail, a greater emphasis on ‘live, work, play’ locations, and an overall push to renovations and innovation is driving a mall renaissance,” the analysts wrote.
A focus by America’s top tier malls on serving as regional retail hubs that provide logistical value for returns and last-mile distribution, as well as on delivering unique customer experiences, makes them especially well-poised to be the major beneficiaries of this revival, the report says.
A separate data point from Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest mall operator, reinforces the view of a continuing recovery in physical retail spaces. The group’s recent earnings report showed numbers that were not just an improvement over 2020’s dismal figures, but that beat 2019 earnings.