Will shoppers return to the mall? That question is about to be answered as the country’s largest mall owner and developer is ready to reopen its doors.
Simon Property Group has committed to reopening 49 of its malls and outlet centers Friday through Monday, according to an internal memo sourced by several news organizations. The openings will include some of its biggest properties, such as Haywood Mall in Greenville, South Carolina and Lenox Square in Atlanta.
According to CNBC, “business hours at the malls and outlet centers will be limited to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, to allow for cleaning overnight, according to the memo. Simon said it will regularly sanitize high-touch areas such as food court tables, escalators, doorknobs and electronic directories. And it is encouraging retailers to do the same in their stores.”
The Simon memo also said shoppers will be asked to take their temperatures before shopping. The use of infrared thermometers and free CDC-approved masks and hand sanitizing packets will be available. The company will ask shoppers to wear masks “or some sort of facial coverings” while they shop. Simon is requiring its employees to wear masks and take “frequent breaks for handwashing.”
The openings will serve as a crucial test of consumer behavior. PYMNTS’ COVID-19 Tracker has found that consumers will not return to nonessential, pre-pandemic shopping behavior until a vaccine is developed or as long as October. Health, not commerce, seems to be driving shopping activity.
Optimistic projections for shoppers returning to malls are certainly in the minority, but they exist. “As the crisis subsides, we may see the emergence of a Brave New Shopper in the U.S.,” says a report in BevNet. “One with new adaptability, a sharpened set of shopping skills and higher expectations for their shopping experience. To incite discovery and rebuild loyalty in-store, brands will need to reteach shoppers how to navigate categories and find ways to encourage them to shop the aisles.”
That is what Walmart and other essential retailers have been doing, and Simon seems to have taken a page from that playbook. Perhaps malls will provide enough space for consumers to feel comfortable – or maybe social distancing and other safety measures will make it difficult to draw an appreciable level of foot traffic.
Motley Fool, among other sources, was not convinced consumers will return anytime soon. “A notable piece of that will come from the fact that social distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 are likely to push the U.S. into a recession. Consumer demand will wane, even if the malls are open,” the publication said on Wednesday (April 29). “Consumers may not be willing to venture out into enclosed spaces filled with large numbers of people because of coronavirus concerns. This, too, would reduce demand. Simon's reopening plans include a number of measures to help keep customers safe, but it's not certain how well shoppers will take to the changes. Add in the stress already occurring in the retail sector, and malls could see more store closures and bankruptcies. That would hit occupancy and rent rolls, and might even result in the need to give rent concessions to the tenants that remain. A lot needs to happen before malls are back to anything near a pre-COVID-19 operating environment, if that's even possible at this point.”