Are These The Final, Doomed Days Of The American Mall?

Image courtesy of Nicholas Eckhart

Once upon a time, not terribly long ago, enclosed shopping malls were mammoth physical manifestations of the great American retail experience — just about everything you could want to buy all in the same sprawling building, anchored at various points by those glorious national department store chains. Then came the dramatic shift to big box stores, offering everything from TVs to hardware to clothing to groceries from one store, followed by the advent of online shopping, where all this shopping can be done in your undies and everything will be delivered to your door. One retail analyst says that recent underwhelming sales figures from Macy’s and other mall mainstays could indicate that many of these relics of the not so distant past are doomed.

Speaking to CNBC, analyst Jan Kniffen pointed to Macy’s, which this week reported its worst sequential same-store sales decline since the financial crisis, as evidence that American retailers are throwing away money on bricks-and-mortar stores that aren’t succeeding.

“On an apples-to-apples basis, we have twice as much per-capita retail space as any other place in the world,” explained Kniffen, a former Senior VP and Treasurer with The May Company. “We are the most over-stored place in the world.”

He contends that Macy’s could shed around 300 (38%) of its current 800 retail locations. That’s significantly more than a recent estimate from Green Street Advisors, who said Macy’s would only need to shed around 72 stores to return to its pre-bubble productivity levels.

The sad state of American anchor stores will also translate into dark days for all malls, predicts Kniffen. By his estimate, more than one-in-three enclosed shopping malls in the U.S. will fail in the years to come. Of those that don’t die quickly, only around one-third will thrive.

On the plus side: Think of all the cool skating and parkour videos that will be shot in the abandoned malls.

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