The Great Recession turned most US consumers into necessity-based shoppers, eliminating their need to spend a day or even an afternoon impulse shopping at the mall. But these changing demographics and shopping habits across the country have real estate developers getting creative – in some cases, by filling now-empty anchor stores with non-retail properties like fitness centers. Ironically, this emphasis on non-retail may be what woos consumers away from the convenience of online shopping and back to the mall.
Seventy-two percent of consumers say they prefer to buy separate apparel pieces at different stores, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey, compared to the 28% who would prefer to purchase everything in one place.
“That number has really remained consistent over the last several years, indicating that the very nature of malls still holds strong appeal among consumers even as the traditional anchor store model has become outdated,” says Kim Kitchings, Vice President, Corporate Strategy & Program Metrics, Cotton Incorporated.
Indeed, recent high profile closures of anchor stores at malls across the country, including Bloomingdale’s leaving the Mall of America – the store’s only location in Minnesota – and Nordstrom’s departure from the Westfield Vancouver Mall, where it has been an anchor store since 1977, have forced a reframing of the concept. Some malls more closely resemble ghost towns than bustling economic enterprises. But what does this mean for malls and the consumers who frequent them?
New Mall Model Banks on Non-Retail
Today, some real estate developers are embracing non-retail properties – like fitness centers – as a new kind of anchor store. And they may not have much of a choice. According to Green Street Advisors, a real estate and REIT analytics firm, about 15% of US malls will fail or be converted into non-retail space within the next 10 years.
“It’s a unique way of reframing the concept of anchor stores,” says Kitchings. “What’s interesting about fitness facilities as anchor properties is that they may see repeat customers once or twice a week, which could have enormous potential for the shopping center as a whole.”
Indeed, data indicate that nearly half of consumers (49%) say they exercise or play a sport three days a week or more, according to the Monitor survey. Fifty-eight percent of consumers say they walk on a regular basis, compared to 21% who participate in cardio training, 21% who jog, and 19% who weight-train, according to Monitor data, meaning the gym is likely a regular destination.
And whether or not consumers are exercising regularly, chances are they are still buying and wearing activewear. When exercising, half of consumers wear a mixture of apparel designated as activewear and pieces that are not designated as such, the Cotton Incorporated Sports Apparel Survey finds.
As a result, activewear is big business – $32 billion big, according to the SGMA – perhaps largely due to the fact that 93% of consumers wear it for activities other than exercise. That figure is up significantly from 87% in 2009, according to the Sports Apparel Survey. A significant percentage of consumers (85%) say they wear athletic apparel around the house, followed by “to run errands” (65%) and to shop (42%) – perhaps at the mall.
Athletic apparel’s multifunctional appeal is no surprise given what consumers like most about their active garments – the comfort (42%) and fit (24%), according to the Sports Apparel Survey. In fact, “comfortable” (93%) and “a good fit” (85%) are the top ways consumers describe cotton athleticwear, their fiber of choice for their active garments.
Reshaping the Way We Shop Malls and retail centers that redefine themselves around fitness centers – and build related retail around them, like activewear stores – could reap significant benefits.
“On one hand, it’s a practical decision, given fitness centers’ large scale footprint and guaranteed foot traffic,” says Kitchings. other hand, I think it speaks to a broader shift in the way consumers shop and even live, wearing one outfit that can do double and even triple duty. Today’s consumer is going shopping after yoga class and grabbing lunch with a friend, all in the same outfit, and now, potentially all at the same “On the mall.”
The Street and 200 Boylston, two new real estate development projects in Chestnut Hill, outside of Boston, both feature fitness centers as anchors: The Street houses a Sports Club/LA and 200 Boylston has Equinox and SoulCycle. Aventura Mall, near Miami, features 300 stores and a 24-screen movie theater – and an Equinox. And Sport&Health is a mainstay at Ballston Common in Arlington, VA.
According to Michael P. Glimcher, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Glimcher, “The way consumers enjoy the mall has changed. Today, the mall is a destination, offering more than just retail. While shopping will always be the primary reason people go to the mall, the survey supported our notion that going to the mall is about the experience… people want a mix of retail, restaurants and entertainment.” Results of the Glimcher Retail Monitor show that shopping at the mall remains a social experience, with 81% of Americans saying they shop with someone. And despite gas prices and time constraints, the survey revealed that people are willing to drive up to 30 minutes to get to the mall and stay between one and five hours on a monthly basis.
One Stop…Five hours is a significant investment, underlining the fact that non-retail offerings continue to entice consumers, since in many cases experiences like working out or getting a manicure can’t be replicated online. Developing this aspect in a retail conglomerate encourages and enables consumers to get more done in one place – which has always been online shopping’s advantage.
“In-store retail can’t compete with the convenience of online shopping, so brick-and-mortar stores have to bank on experiences that can’t be had online,” says Kitchings. “Interestingly, this may make shopping centers more convenient for harried shoppers in the long run.”And indeed, data bear this out; 52% of people surveyed said if stores offered more experiences like yoga classes, cooking demos or workshops, they would visit the mall more frequently, according to the Glimcher Retail Monitor. Stores like Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma, which offer cooking demonstrations, and Lululemon, which offers running clubs and other workshops, may hold strong appeal among both consumers and mall groups as a result.
Though the Great Recession spelled doom for many of America’s malls, it may have actually turned out to be a catalyst for their much-needed reinvention. For some in this category, the future looks bright.