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Malls hoping for big holiday season of sales as some struggle to stay relevant

Posted at 7:46 PM, Nov 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-26 23:30:38-05

LONE TREE, Colo. — At malls across Colorado, thousands of shoppers headed to the stores this Black Friday on the hunt for a good deal.

Brick and mortar stores are hoping for a busy holiday season after the pandemic took a toll on their bottom lines last year when they were forced to close temporarily.

At Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree, senior general manager Pamela Kelly says the mall has seen a steady increase in customers since about July with many more shoppers coming in over the past few weeks for the holidays.

“We missed Black Friday quite a bit over the last year with COVID kind of changing retail trends. However, retail trends seem to be coming back. People really enjoy the aspect of holiday shopping,” Kelly said.

Fears of a supply chain shortage and warnings from major retailers and mail carriers to shop and ship early have also brought more customers in to physical stores.

“Brick and mortar sales right now are up 64% from last year, which is not a lot when you consider that last year most of the stores are basically closed. But people are getting back into the stores physically, which I think is really good news for retailers this year,” said Darrin Duber-Smith, a senior marketing lecturer at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

October was near record-breaking for many retailers and Duber-Smith says he has noticed more people spreading out their holiday shopping instead of waiting.

However, he has not seen as many Black Friday deals this year.

While the parking lots at malls may be packed on Black Friday, overall, Duber-Smith says the country is still on the trajectory of having more malls die off as customers move to online and other shopping methods.

“We have been moving away from shopping malls for decades now. I don’t see that trend moving, but remember that e-commerce is still only 15 to 20% of total retail sales, which means we’re really not shopping as much online as a lot of people think we are,” Duber-Smith said.

From his research, newer malls in higher-income areas tend to hold on longer than others. Major department stores have also traditionally played a big role in keeping malls around.

However, Duber-Smith believes even more brick-and-mortar stores will begin to go away over the next several years

“There’s a very good reason for that: We’re overbuilt, and we’ve been over built by about 25 or 30% compared to other countries for decades,” he said. “What’s really happening is sort of a culling of the herd, or we have far too many stores selling the same goods to the same people.”

At Park Meadows, Kelly says the mall people come more for the experience of being with their family and friends and picking out that perfect gift in person. The mall is working to include more experiences to draw customers in, like scavenger hunts, gingerbread decorating, a painting and cocktail store and more.

“There’s no guarantees for any of us. We just all have to work harder at it,” Kelly said. “You have to embrace the changes. You have to embrace technology. You have to embrace e-commerce, make sure you have package pick up.”

The mall is working on bringing in even more experiences to attract and keep customers coming. It’s a plan Duber-Smith says more malls are adopting across the country. The challenge will be finding new, even more creative ways to make experiences special.

For those that do not adapt, the die-off could take several years.

“It takes a long time for the leases to expire, and it takes a long time for companies to run out of money. It’s amazing how long cash flow can last,” Duber-Smith said.

Some will have more success than others.