Monday, January 5, 2015

Have Malls Jumped the Shark?

Definitely. Reports may be exaggerating the imminent demise of the American shopping mall, but there has been a distinct downward spiral during the past decade or so.

Consider these headlines which appeared during the past six months or so:
  • The economics (and nostalgia) of dead malls (NY Times)
  • A dying breed: The American shopping mall (CBS News)
  • Malled: The hollowing out of an American institution (Bloomberg)
  • Here's what's becoming of America's dead shopping malls (NPR)
  • The death and rebirth of the American mall (Smithsonian)
PBS News Hour has an educational page titled "Why malls across America are dying" and that's where I found the graph at the top of this post. Supply is too high while demand is too low. Period.

There are too many enclosed malls and stores chasing too few in-person shoppers. Between the economy's problems and the meteoric rise of online buying, malls don't have the foot traffic they once did. Plus malls are often homogenous, meaning one mall has nearly the same stores as the next (not always, but often), which means little novelty.

Not to mention growing interest in shopping locally and patronizing small businesses who can't afford mall locations. Plus, until recent months, high gas prices discouraged some people from driving to large regional malls for a day of browsing, eating, and perhaps buying. In addition, consumer behavior has changed and now shoppers appear to prefer open-air lifestyle shopping centers where big-box or destination stores are spread along a street with smaller specialty stores and restaurants a walk away or a quick 30-second drive. No more long walks from outside parking lots to inside stores on the 2d or 3d level of an enclosed mall.

So malls have jumped the shark -- meaning they're way past their peak -- and now are using various experiments or innovations to either attract shoppers or . . . . worst case, to breathe new life into a location now devoid of stores.

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