As of the first of June, the nation’s largest mall — Minnesota’s Mall of America — is set to reopen its doors to the public, following Gov. Tim Walz clearing the state’s retail locations to open as of Monday of this week (May 11), provided they adhere to social distancing guidelines within their locations.
The Mall of America, a 2,869,000 square-foot commerce mecca known as much for being a destination and sight to behold as it is a place to shop, has said its grand reopening will trail the state’s green light by two weeks to give the location adequate time to prepare for enhanced safety and cleaning protocols.
“This will allow us to continue creating the safest environment possible for our team members, tenants and guests,” the mall said in a statement. “It will also allow our diverse set of retail tenants the time needed to rehire, train staff and prepare their individual stores with necessary cleaning, sanitization and safety measure implementations.”
And the mall, though reopening, will not quite be operating at full capacity. The special features that have given the mall its reputation as a destination — including its host of restaurant options, unusual attractions like Nickelodeon Universe and its full-size indoor roller coaster — will remain closed for the time being as thus far such attractions have not been given the green light by the state. Additionally, not every store is ready to open, as getting furloughed staff back in the door and ready to work may take more than two weeks for many mall operators.
“I definitely think we’ll see a lot of retailers open on Monday,” Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, told The Minnesota Star Tribune. “But others will take their time and make sure they have a plan in place.”
And even the mall’s operators note that given the size of the operation the Mall of America represents, getting up and operational at full capacity will not be a matter simply flipping a switch on and opening the doors. Jill Renslow, an executive vice president of the Mall of America, told the Star Tribune the property has to be ready and safe if it is to have any hope of drawing customers back in. That will mean, among other new features, plexiglass barriers between guests and personnel, face masks for workers, and controlling the inflow and outflow of guests through newly specially designated entrance and exit points.
The goal, according to Mall of America officials, is to allow the 175 small businesses and “hundreds of global brands” currently working in the location a chance to “begin rebuilding their business.”
A noble goal to be certain, and it seems Mall of America is working overtime to make sure it is ready for consumers when June 1 rolls around in two weeks. But the question remains — however ready the mall and its shops may be, will consumers be ready to get back to malls in general, and the Mall of America in specific?
Taking a quick glance at recent consumer data PYMNTS has gathered, seems the answer for either of those questions being a resounding yes is far from a sure thing. Consumers are certainly bored at this point, and they miss many of their old activities. According to the most recent survey, 53 percent of all consumers report they are just plain bored, 75 percent miss eating in restaurants, 59 percent miss going to sporting events and participating in other leisure activities, and 57 percent report they miss going to the store to buy things.
And while that might sound like it augurs well for the Mall of America’s reopening, it is interesting to note the contrast between what consumers miss doing, and what they say will actually motivate them to get out and about in the world again. Consumers may miss going to stores, but only 4 percent reported missing it so much it is the primary reason they are hoping to get out and about again. And that data trend has been reflected in the actual behavior of consumers in states where early reopening has been attempted — consumers, even when presented with the option to venture forth once more, seem to mostly be taking a pass, leaving restaurants and retailers empty and wondering when those customers will return.
That is bad news for malls in general — but Mall of America has a separate issue entirely. It is not just retail, it is a destination location that draws consumers who travel from all over America not just to shop at the mall, but to have the whole mega-mall experience. And unlike shopping, our recent data shows that consumers don’t actually miss domestic travel all that much. Less than half, (44 percent) are hoping to resume domestic travel anytime soon. On the upside it is still a better result than international travel got — only 18 percent of consumers found that even remotely appealing.
But the Mall of America’s business model relies on the tourist component — there are over 50 hotels within 10 miles and several directly in the structure itself. And at present most of the attractions that set it apart as a destination to draw visitors remain closed, with no clear guidance as yet on when they are going to open. The reopened mall might attract some particularly dedicated locals, but it is hard to imagine consumers who are by and large tepid on travel making the pilgrimage to a destination mall with no special features and an incomplete roster of shops operational.
And even when more of those features are up and running — as presumably some will be in the next few weeks — it remains unclear how big a difference that will make. While much has changed in the eight weeks of consumer studies PYMNTS has done, one thing remains steadfastly true. To go back to true normal, and begin resuming all the activities they say they miss doing, the vast majority of consumers are holding out for a vaccine to get them comfortable getting back to their normal routines in the physical world.
A vaccine that even the most optimistic of experts doesn’t forecast will be ready for over a year.
The Mall of America may in fact be ready to get back to business at least in some ways in two weeks. But we suspect it might take Americans quite a bit longer to get interested in going back to the mall, if they ever do again.