The tightening of discretionary spending is impacting several retail categories, including the shopping center space. But March 2023 data hinted at the beginning of a rebound, with the three mall formats analyzed – Indoor Malls, Open-Air Lifestyle Centers, and Outlet Malls – seeing a month-over-month (MoM) increase in visits along with a year-over-year (YoY) rise in median dwell times.
Did the positive trend continue in April? We dove into the foot traffic data to find.
2023 Visits Continue Lagging Behind 2022 Levels
With many consumers still spending cautiously in the face of the wider economic uncertainty, April 2023 mall visits continued to lag behind 2022 levels, with the YoY visit gaps widening for all three formats analyzed.
Much of the lag is likely due to the current inflationary environment – consumers looking to reduce their spending may be avoiding visiting malls and exposing themselves to their many temptations. Outlet Malls – which saw the largest dip – seem to be particularly impacted due to their relatively out-of-the-way locations, as Americans on a budget may avoid the long drive, and hefty gas consumption, typically required by a trip to an Outlet Mall.
Month-over-Month Trends Provide Some Optimism
Still, despite the widening YoY gaps, MoM traffic data provides some reason for optimism. After a significant MoM visit jump between February and March 2023 – which exceeded the increase in calendar days between the two months – April traffic to Open-Air Lifestyle Centers and Outlet Malls also rose relative to March. Indoor Malls also saw their April 2023 visits stay close to last month’s levels – even though the month has one fewer day.
The relative stability of MoM visits may indicate that – at least among some consumer segments – the tide is beginning to turn.
Upswing in Late April Traffic
YoY weekly visit patterns may also signal a possible rebound.
Following several weeks of widening YoY weekly visit gaps throughout April, the week of April 24th 2023 saw traffic to Indoor Malls, Open-Air Lifestyle Centers, and Outlet Malls down 9.3%, 4.7%, and 12.6%, respectively. These numbers represent significant improvements over the 14.8%, 10.4%, and 22.3% YoY visit gaps of the week before – even though the narrowing visit gap may be partially due to the timing of Easter 2022 compared to Easter 2023.
Leaning into the Mall Experience
Beyond visit numbers, location analytics can also reveal shifting consumer preferences and habits. And foot traffic data for April 2023 indicates that those who are visiting malls may be looking for more than just shopping.
April 2023 saw a continuation of the YoY increase in dwell time seen in March along with a significant increase in weekend visits relative to both April 2022 and April 2019. Over half of Outlet Mall visits in April 2023 took place over Saturday and Sunday, and Indoor Malls and Open-Air Lifestyle Centers also saw their share of weekend visits grow to 42.8% and 43.4%, respectively.
The rise in weekend visits may reflect a change in consumers’ relationships with shopping centers. Throughout the 2010s, malls shifted from social hubs where visitors spent hours browsing and hanging out to places consumers visit with specific shopping or eating intentions. But now, with the increase in median dwell time and the rise in weekend visits, that trend may be reversing. This is a further indication that while visits may be declining, the ‘value’ of each visit looks to be increasing with visitors looking to maximize their trips.
Shopping centers are still adapting to changing consumer behavior by offering new experiences, investing in omnichannel, and diversifying their tenant base. And with many Americans feeling increasingly isolated, malls may be on their way to reclaiming their role as a place as a hub for connection and socializing.
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