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Most U.S. Shoppers Say They Won’t Set Foot in a Mall This Year

For most Americans, this holiday shopping season won’t include one longtime staple: the mall.

Just 45% of U.S. consumers plan to go to a shopping mall this season, down from 64% who visited last November and December, according to an International Council of Shopping Centers survey released Friday.

The forecast is a fresh blow to American malls already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, which has upended the economy, shifted spending habits and made people wary of crowded places. Dozens of mall-based retailers have filed for bankruptcy this year, including J.C. Penney Co. and J. Crew.

This year will also bring an increase in e-commerce and deals spread out over a longer period, the council found. More than three-quarters of respondents said they expected to start shopping earlier than usual this year.

Even with the changing behaviors, a majority of American holiday shoppers — about eight in 10 — said they will still spend in a physical store during the coming months. More than half of respondents plan to purchase more from small businesses hurt by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Malls usually shine during the holidays, serving as gathering places where families can browse, eat and take pictures on Santa’s lap. But health concerns have been ever-present since the pandemic began. In the ICSC report, which surveyed 1,004 U.S. respondents from Sept. 28 to 30, Baby Boomers — whose age puts them at higher risk for the coronavirus — were least likely to say they would visit a mall this holiday season.

Unusual Year

Given the anomalous nature of this year, the trends may not represent a death knell for malls, according to ICSC Chief Executive Officer Tom McGee.

“We have to look at this year somewhat in isolation,” he said in an interview. “We’re in the midst of a pandemic and that’s clearly going to temper people’s appetite for going out to public spaces.”

Malls should play up their advantages over online retailers, he said, such as experiential elements.

“A big part of the holiday is creating that holiday mood experience, so you’ll see a lot of investment in that,” McGee said. “Walking around a mall that’s heavily decorated with music playing and so forth does put you in a holiday mood that you’re not going to get sitting behind a PC.”

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