American malls are dying faster than you think - and it's about to get even worse


mall shopping sale

Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Shoppers walk with bags at Somerset Collection shopping mall in Troy, Michigan.

America's most iconic retailers are closing stores, and it's left many speculating about the future of shopping malls.


Macy's recently announced it is closing 100 stores, following similar announcements from Sears, Gap, and Abercrombie & Fitch.

The decline in traffic has been stunning: in 2010, there were 35 million visits to malls, according to real estate research firm Cushman and Wakefield. By 2013, there were only 17 million visits, for a 50% decline.

Analysts expect upcoming data will show an even steeper drop in mall traffic.

"The shift in how people are shopping means the future of retail fulfillment is no longer just about more stores or shopping centers," Cushman and Wakefield analysts write, adding that stores will need to invest in online options.


About 15% of malls will disappear in the next decade, according to a study by Green Street advisors.

There are numerous reasons for the brick-and-mortar apparel industry's decline.

Americans are increasingly choosing to spend on technology and "experiences" like vacations, leaving less money for apparel. This has led to a spike in discounters like TJ Maxx. When people do shop at traditional full-price retailers, they increasingly prefer to do so online.

Moody's Investors Service writes that closing stores is a necessary step for Macy's.

Dead Mall

Nicholas Eckhart

Rolling Acres Mall


"Macy's can be more malleable in its effort to meet the changing needs of the consumer and focus its effort on stores which are better gatekeepers of its brand image," Moody's analysts wrote in a recent report. "It will also free up internal resources in efforts to grow in higher-growth areas."

But fewer "anchor stores" in malls also spells even more trouble for specialty stores like Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch. Many Americans visit the mall intending to go to the department stores, then stop in other stores once they're there.

Once mall anchors like Macy's close, it can be difficult for owners to find a tenant to replace them, said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a national retail-consulting and investment-banking firm.

"Teen retailers ... are all a disaster, and these middle-level malls are killing them," Davidowitz said.

There is a bright spot for the malls, at least those catering to high-end shoppers: Technology-focused tenants like Tesla, Microsoft, and Apple, according to The Wall Street Journal.


Because technology is more expensive than clothing, it's easier for these stores to turn a profit. Technology stores also require fewer staff members and smaller spaces than department stores, resulting in fewer overhead expenses.

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