About the Placer.ai Mall Indexes: These Indexes analyze data from more than 100 top-tier indoor malls, 100 open-air lifestyle centers (not including outlet malls) and 100 outlet malls across the country, in both urban and suburban areas. Placer.ai uses deidentified, aggregate location analytics from a panel of 30 million devices and processes the data using industry-leading AI and machine learning capabilities to make estimations about overall visits to specific locations.
Following a brief respite in January 2023, year-over-year (YoY) visits to malls fell again in February as ongoing economic headwinds impacted the shopping center space. But last month also provided some reasons for optimism, including the relative strength from the Open-Air Lifestyle Center format and a promising weekly visit trend in the latter half of February. Still, the inflation that continues to weigh on consumer spending could mean that mall traffic may struggle to reach 2022 levels in the near future.
So how did the contraction in discretionary spending impact traffic for the different shopping center formats in March 2023? And are shoppers adapting their behaviors to the current economic conditions?
Positive Month-over-Month Growth
March has 10.7% more days than February, so some month-over-month (MoM) increase is to be expected – but foot traffic data shows that March 2023 visits increased 15.6%, 15.3%, and 23.4% MoM for Indoor Malls, Open-Air Lifestyle Centers, and Outlet Malls, respectively. This means that the three formats saw real MoM growth last month, even when adjusting for the number of days in each month, which could indicate that the challenges facing the space are beginning to ease.
Persistent Year-over-Year Visit Gaps
But looking at year-over-year (YoY) numbers reveals that the difficulties facing malls – and discretionary categories more generally – are not quite over yet. The February YoY visit gaps persisted in March for all three shopping center formats, with traffic to Indoor Malls, Open-Air Lifestyle Centers, and Outlet Malls down 7.4%, 5.0%, and 8.6% relative to March 2022. While growth is obviously the ideal, declines of this small a magnitude considering the wide array of economic challenges continue to reinforce the sustained strength of top malls across categories.
Still, the YoY visit gaps for Open-Air Lifestyle Centers were especially minor, which could highlight the changing role of shopping centers. Open-Air Lifestyle Centers have led the pack with the smallest YoY visit gaps (and largest YoY visit gains in January) since the beginning of the year, and our latest white paper also shows that this format receives the largest relative share of evening visits and weekday visits. Since lifestyle centers often include bars, gyms, and carefully designed outdoor socializing space, it is possible that many people are visiting this format as a budget-friendly option for afterwork recreation.
The relative strength of Open-Air Lifestyle Centers highlights the enduring appeal of malls as much more than just a place to shop several stores under one roof.
Longer, Less Frequent Visits
And although YoY visits for all formats were down in March, the median visit length was up. Indoor Malls, Outlet Malls, and Open-Air Lifestyle Centers all saw their share of short visits decrease while the share of longer visits grew. This indicates that consumers are still trying to consolidate drives and accomplish more with each trip and are visiting less frequently but spending more time browsing the mall during each visit. It also shows the power of shifts many top tier malls have made to create locations that drive more extended and impactful visits.
And like with the relative success of Open-Air Lifestyle Centers, the longer dwell times may also reflect shopping centers’ renewed emphasis on facilitating recreation and socializing as the format maintains its relevance despite the challenging economic climate.
Although the economic headwinds are still constraining retail visits, mall traffic is showing some signs of progress, with March 2023 visits significantly up relative to February. And while traffic may be slightly below 2022 levels, location intelligence reveals that visits have gotten longer, indicating that the format continues to provide significant value to consumers.
Will the MoM recovery continue in April? Will malls continue attracting longer visits?
Visit Placer.ai to find out.