Malls in America: A Grand Reopening?

Published on May 7, 2020 in General, Vertical

Will Shoppers Return to the Local Mall?

Malls Reopen, But Did Shoppers Come Back?

The reopening of the U.S. economy crossed a major threshold during the first weekend of May, with dozens of malls and shopping centers in multiple states opening their doors to shoppers for the first time. The question is: did anyone show up to shop? 

Simon Property Group, the largest mall operator in the U.S., reopened over 40 of its malls on May 1st in several states easing stay-at-home orders. The re-openings come with several caveats, including some stores remaining closed, limited public areas, and social distancing measures in place. Local news coverage in many cities showed long lines of shoppers waiting for mall doors to reopen for the first time in several weeks. Location data from Arrivalist suggests that a few properties, primarily in the southeastern U.S., opened to a relatively large volume of visitors. Still, most malls saw shopper volumes under 15% of traffic on a typical Saturday before the pandemic crisis .

Chart depicting visitation to Malls in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas from February through May 5.

What We Measured

In this study, Arrivalist analyzed data for Simon’s 35 malls located in Texas, Florida, Indiana, South Carolina, Georgia, and Oklahoma that were open on Saturday, May 2nd.  We compared visitation volume for each of the 35 properties to that on an average Saturday in 2019 prior to the pandemic crisis.  For the 35 properties combined, visitation on Saturday, May 2nd was only 14.6% of the average volume observed for on Saturdays in the weeks leading up to the global pandemic; however, further study shows marked differences in performance based upon property type (indoor vs outdoor, for instance) and location (urban vs suburban locations.)

Comparing indoor, outlet, and open air properties in Texas. The Chart is depicting the percentage of normal volume each observed following the reopening.

Size, Type and Location Matter

Indoor malls and large outlet style properties in many states had lower volumes than the overall average, including many in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Grapevine Mills, one of the largest malls in Dallas/Fort Worth, had volumes just 8.2% of normal. Not all large properties opened to such sparse crowds, however. Katy Mills, one of the largest malls in the Houston, Texas metro area, had volumes slightly in excess of 25% of normal, while Lenox Square in Atlanta saw 55% of normal volume during its first day back on Monday, May 4th

Generally, large outlet malls located in suburban or more rural settings had higher volumes of shoppers overall. On Saturday, the Calhoun Outlet Marketplace in Calhoun, Georgia (northeast of Atlanta) had 23% of normal volume, and the Rio Grande Valley Outlets outside of Brownsville, Texas saw 31% of its regular traffic return. In South Carolina, the Gaffney Outlet Marketplace, located between Greenville, SC and Charlotte, NC observed traffic was 31.4% of normal Saturday volume and the Haywood Mall, also in Greenville, had one of the best weekends amongst large, indoor mall properties with traffic 24.6% of normal.

Smaller, open-air boutique shopping centers, like their larger mall brethren, reopened to relatively sparse crowds with average volumes at only 17.4% of that seen during an average, pre-pandemic Saturday. However, in this group there were definitely a few winners – specifically, Pier Park, in Panama City, FL observed visits clearing 50% of typical, pre-crisis Saturday traffic. St. Johns Town Center, outside of Jacksonville, FL, also stood out  with traffic volumes just over 20% of normal.

Overall, malls in Florida and South Carolina recorded the highest percentages of normal visitation while properties in small to mid-sized markets including Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Greenville outperformed those in major markets like Dallas and Houston. Generally, it appears that most shoppers are cautious about returning to their local mall even as the shelter-in-place orders begin to lift.

Comparison of Malls and Shopping Centers in Florida. Pier Park in Panama City observed visits clearing 50% of typical, pre-crisis Saturday Traffic.

We’ll update this data early next week to see if more shoppers choose to visit the mall on Saturday, May 9th during Mother’s Day Weekend and whether an upward trend in visits can be anticipated as the month progresses. 

Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out our latest analysis of consumer travel trends here.

The Team at Arrivalist