U.S. shopping malls have been on the decline for many years, victims of a consumer culture that has turned toward strip malls and on-line shopping. Then the pandemic arrived and shoved many malls over the edge. Iconic stores declared bankruptcy one after another — Lord and Taylor, Pier One, Neiman Marcus, Brooks Brothers, JC Penney and others. A report issued by Coresight Research in August 2020 predicted that around 1,000 malls would close within the next three to five years. UBS predicts that 80,000 retail stores will shut by 2026 — many of these stores are in shopping malls.
Yet this dire picture does not reflect the whole story, which is infused with examples of innovation, adaptability and out-of-the-box thinking. The shopping mall is not extinct, particularly in wealthier communities. Instead, it is being reborn as something with a different look and feel, with links to the home and virtual spaces. Changes began to take hold over the past decade and multiplied during the economic crisis created by COVID-19. As America accelerates its post-Omicron reopening, we can begin to discern plausible futures for the shopping mall. Here’s what we see happening.
A multiplicity of choice
One of the most significant shopping trends of the past two years has been retailers’ embrace of omnichannel sales. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, e-commerce sales reached $870 billion last year, a whopping 50.5% increase over 2019. And yet, physical stores still do much more business than online sellers.
Public confidence is growing that it’s again safe to go out as COVID-19 case numbers steadily decline. Humans are social beings and many have missed interaction with others during the pandemic. While consumers are not going to give up the convenience of shopping from home, they also find joy in mingling at the mall, scanning the shelves, touching the merchandise, and trying on clothes.
In response to pandemic-era restrictions and social distancing, companies began to offer more ways to shop and collect purchases. Omnichannel options have become ubiquitous. Retailers have created multiple options for buying products — like ship-from-store (allowing the customer to browse first), and buy online and pick up at the curb, in-store, or in a locker. They are…