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How Malls Are Making a Comeback in 2024

Shopping Centers have proved their resilience over the past couple of years, staging an impressive comeback following the back-to-back challenges of COVID restrictions and inflation. But although foot traffic is bouncing back, shopping habits are changing — and leading malls are trying new tactics to draw consumers through their doors. Analyzing location intelligence metrics for shopping centers across the country can reveal what consumers expect from malls in 2024, and what shopping center operators can do to stay ahead of the curve.

Key Insights

  • Mall visits are returning to pre-COVID levels.
  • Weekday/weekend visit distribution has reverted to 2019 norms, but hourly visit patterns have shifted.
  • Experiences of all kinds can draw visitors to malls.
  • Pop-ups, whether short or longer term, are a powerful tool to drive traffic.

Mall Visits Are Returning to Pre-COVID Levels

Comparing yearly visits to malls in 2021, 2022, and 2023 to pre-COVID 2019 shows that malls are making slow but steady progress in closing the year-over-four-year visit gap. Open-air shopping centers have made the strongest comeback, with 2023 foot traffic almost on par with 2019 levels. Indoor malls have also made consistent progress. Even outlet malls — where the visit gaps remain significant, perhaps due to consumers’ desire to save on gas costs or the impacts of inclement weather — have seen their visit gap narrow between 2022 and 2023.

Weekday/Weekend Visit Distribution Has Reverted to 2019 Norms, But Hourly Visit Patterns Have Shifted

COVID-19 impacted more than just visit numbers; it also changed in-store consumer behavior. And while some of these behaviors are reverting back to pre-COVID norms, other habits appear more sticky.

The share of weekday visits to malls increased at the height of the pandemic as consumers found themselves with more free time midweek. However, by 2023, the balance of weekday vs. weekend visits had returned to 2019 levels. Still, thanks to hybrid work arrangements, many shoppers are still enjoying more flexible daily schedules — which seems to be impacting the hourly visit distribution at malls. In 2023, all mall categories received more visits between the hours of 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. than in 2019, while the share of post-work (7 p.m. to 10 p.m.) visits decreased.

Experiences of All Kinds Can Draw Visitors to Malls

What draws consumers to malls in 2024? Location intelligence indicates that experiential offerings of all kinds — be it unique store layouts, popular dining destinations, or bona fide entertainment centers — can boost mall foot traffic. When SCHEELS, with its 45-foot ferris wheel and 16,000-gallon saltwater aquarium opened in an Arizona mall, visits jumped and remained high for the following months. And in Fayetteville, NC, year-over-year (YoY) foot traffic patterns at the Cross Creek Mall turned positive following the addition of a Main Event entertainment complex.

Malls can also benefit from more modest experiential additions. The Southgate Mall in Missoula, MT, received a visit boost from the opening of a new Texas Roadhouse location.

Short- or Long-Term Pop-Ups Are a Powerful Tool to Drive Traffic

Malls that don’t want to permanently commit a space to new experiential offerings can also use pop-ups to generate excitement and visits. During a three-day SHEIN pop-up (Dec. 15-17, 2023) at the Woodfield Mall in Illinois, visits reached Super Saturday (the last weekend before Christmas) levels.

Longer-term pop-ups can drive foot traffic as well. Swedish home furnisher IKEA, which has been experimenting with mall pop-ups, launched a six-month residency on Feb. 16, 2024 at the Rosedale Center in Roseville, Montana. Visits to the mall increased significantly immediately after.

The Future of Malls Looks Bright

Malls are thriving, carving out spaces for themselves in a competitive retail environment. By prioritizing experiential retail, entertainment, and pop-up shops, shopping centers across the country are remaining relevant in a rapidly changing retail world. And mall operators that recognize the power of innovation and evolve along with their customers can hope to meet with continued success.

Shira Petrack is head of content at Placer.ai, a leader in location analytics.

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