Even before stores were forced to shut down to the coronavirus, shopping malls were struggling. In October, the number of vacancies at shopping malls reached an eight-year high, according to commercial real estate data analytics company Reis.
Now, shoppers may be even less enthusiastic about visiting the mall than they were before the coronavirus. According to a survey of 508 U.S. shoppers from retail predictive analytics firm First Insight Inc., shopping malls ranked the lowest in terms of retail formats consumers said they would feel shopping at again after stores re-opened. Just 33% shoppers said that they will feel safe shopping at a mall, while 54% said they feel safe shopping at a grocery store.
No one knows exactly when all retail stores will be open again in the U.S., and when people will resume their normal shopping habits. Nonetheless, malls will still have to make a few key decisions in order to ensure that they survive the coming year. In the near term, malls will have to decide as well how heavy of a hand to play in the stores re-openings, namely whether or not to require stores take certain safety precautions, or coordinate to help tenants offer particular services.
Making shoppers comfortable
Outdoor mall Nebraska Crossing, which is set to reopen to the public May 1, may help set the blueprint for how other U.S. malls can approach the behemoth task. The owner of Nebraska Crossings told the New York Times that he planned to distribute 100 infrared thermometers and plastic shields to stores to help protect their employees. He also did not charge tenants for April rent in order to put them in better financial shape to re-open.
However, malls need to be prepared for the fact that temperature checks and proper personal protective equipment still won’t put all hesitant shoppers at ease. Greg Petro, CEO of First Insight, noted that shoppers are still visiting places like grocery stores and drug stores out of necessity, even though a large portion of survey respondents still don’t feel comfortable shopping there.