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Shopping Malls Battling To Stay In Business In Changing Times

Shopping Malls Battling To Stay In Business In Changing Times
One of the great issues facing the US retail industry currently, and particularly in the light of growing Internet-based sales, is the future of shopping malls. Some analysts believe that the decline in the mall 'experience' is yet another repercussion of the financial crisis of 2008 and the huge recession that followed by turning many US consumers into necessity-based shoppers. Consequently, that did away with the need to spend a day, or even just an afternoon, impulse shopping at the mall which has America's 'public square' for the last 60 years. All across the United States are the sad remains of once-thriving shopping malls.

It wasn't just a case of going shopping at the mall. They were a very handy place to meet for a wide range of people: youngsters having fun, parents buying for the kids, and old people meeting for a coffee or a meal.

But those days have rapidly passed into the history books. In 2017 alone, it is estimated that more than 9,000 stores overall closed down. The very names tell you what's happening in modern-day America as major retailers slash their physical presence: Macy's, Sears, Kmart and JCPenney.

It is forecast that by 2022, one in four malls – the great invention of the 1950s as a way of bringing masses of people into a fun-filled building in order to create the excitement needed to persuade them to spend, spend, spend – will close, and that about 500,000 retail jobs have disappeared since 2002.

Headlines have been predicting the demise of shopping centers since they were first constructed in 1956, but in recent years the reality has become all too apparent as they turn into huge, useless, abandoned blocks of concrete. Too expensive either to keep running or to dismantle, they are eyesores spread across the United States.

Thousands of acres of farmland were converted into massive shopping centers. Their development was great aided by the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s and also by enormous commercial investments aided by changing tax laws.

Meanwhile, the flight of large numbers of white Americans from the centers of cities during the 1960s and 1970s to the suburbs guaranteed a customer base.

All told, 1,500 malls were built in the U.S. between 1956 and 2005, and their rate of growth often outpaced that of the population. As with all booms, this one couldn’t last. The decline began in the mid-2000s. The rise of online shopping and the blow of the huge recession of 2009 led to a drop in sales and foot traffic at big-brand retailers like JCPenney and Macy’s that anchored many of the country’s malls. Between 2010 and 2013, mall visits during the holiday season, the busiest shopping time of the year, dropped by half.

“We are over-retailed,” says Ronald Friedman, a partner at Marcum LLP, which researches consumer trends. There is an estimated 26 sq. ft. of retail for every person in the U.S., compared with about 2.5 sq. ft. per capita in Europe. As an indication of the profuse numbers of shopping possibilities, more than half of Macy’s stores due to be shuttered are within 10 miles of another Macy’s.

Why is this happening? Mostly because our new digital lives give us an easy and quiet way of shopping at a click. Life has clearly moved on: where malls were designed for leisure time and pleasant shopping, a great deal of peoples' time has been taken over by busier lives and second jobs and apps that let you buy anything at any time of the day from anywhere.

There are still about 1,100 malls in the U.S. today, but a quarter of them are at risk of closing over the next five years, according to estimates from Credit Suisse. Other analysts predict the number will be even higher. Some ailing malls have already moved on to a second life.

Among the type of businesses hit by this change in thinking by consumers, inevitably, is jewelry stores. "One Los Angeles-based jeweler said: "We have seen the figures showing that people are visiting malls less and it is a concern. Jewelry fits into that impulse shopping category. If consumers are filling that hole by buying online, then for the retail jewelry industry overall it is not such a problem. However, for jewelry store owners, with all the overheads involved, this is becoming an increasing problem."

As a result of changing shopping habits and also a shift in the country's demographics, mall developers and owners are having to become more creative in how they ensure that shoppers continue to visit malls. This has meant, in some cases, bringing in non-retail businesses, such as fitness centers, to take the place of so-called anchor stores which have moved out. Anchor stores would typically be a large chain with a wide range of products, including food, which consumers will always need.

The Internet now accounts for at least 4 to 6 percent of retail sales. Baby boomers – those born in the years after the end of World War II – were the biggest consumers. But with Generations X and Y, there is less consumption in the three biggest niches wiped out by technology - cameras, music and books.

Michael P. Glimcher, Chairman and CEO of Glimcher, said: “The way consumers enjoy the mall has changed. Today, the mall is a destination, offering more than just retail … people want a mix of retail, restaurants and entertainment.” Results of the Glimcher Retail Monitor show that shopping at the mall remains a social experience, with 81% of Americans saying they shop with someone.

Though the Great Recession spelled doom for many of America’s malls, it may have actually turned out to be a catalyst for their much-needed reinvention.

The multi-channel approach means that retailers are indifferent to where a purchase occurs, whether in person, online, or via a mail order catalogue. The key to success in this strategy appears to be a seamless integration across the different channels to ensure a consistently engaging, quality experience for the customer.

Millennials are reportedly increasing their activity in the market, because as much as online and mobile channels are ingrained in their brain, shopping is still a social behavior for this group. Seeing and touching, as well as researching and deciding where to purchase a product, are all important aspects of their shopping experience.

What does the future hold for the shopping mall? Clearly, its major role in the retail sector in the United States has taken a huge blow as demographics and changing consumer tastes create different needs and requirements. Interestingly, however, malls in other parts of the world retain huge popularity – particularly across Asia where the five largest malls in the world are located. Although the long-term outlook for malls in America remains shaky due to the increasing popularity of online shopping, efforts to reshape and reinvent themselves could give them a long-term future – or at least aid them to extend their lifespans.

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