Food halls drive mall traffic, not clothing sales

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Nov 06, 2019
George Anderson

Food courts and halls are attracting traffic to malls around the country, according to a new survey by UBS. They are not, however, proving successful in helping retail stores in those same shopping centers sell more clothing.

UBS’s research, CNBC reports, finds that consumers are increasingly going online to buy clothing rather than visiting malls. Today, 25 percent of all apparel is bought online, according to the investment bank, which forecasts that 31 percent of clothing sales will be purchased through digital channels by 2023.

Mall operators have increasingly relied on food halls, entertainment providers and other non-traditional tenants (gyms, co-working spaces, etc.) to get more people to visit their facilities. A report released last year by the real estate developer, Cushman & Wakefield, forecast that the number of malls with food halls would grow from 70 at the time to around 300 by 2020. 

The survey of more than 2,500 consumers by UBS found that food concepts are drawing traffic to malls, but not enough at present to offset the loss of sales by clothing retailers, particularly department stores. The percentage of respondents who said they visited a mall to eat rose from four percent last year to seven percent at present. Those who go to the mall to shop at department stores fell from 25 percent to 20 percent.

UBS’s findings are somewhat out of synch with previous research that showed food offerings support traditional retail stores in malls. A report from Jones Lang LaSalle found that shoppers who eat at the mall spend an average of 35 extra minutes browsing stores compared to those who do not eat on their trips. 

Research by WD Partners found that a number of food concepts including farmers markets, food halls and grocery stores are likely to influence the frequency of consumer visits to malls.

Seventy-seven percent of digital natives (age 18 to 29) said a farmers market would influence their decision to visit a mall compared to 75 percent for digital immigrants (age 46 and older). Food halls scored 78 percent for digital natives and 61 percent for digital immigrants. Grocery stores were seen as a draw by 61 percent of younger consumers versus 55 percent of older ones. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How can landlords and retailers deal with the exodus of apparel shopping to online stores from mall-based stores? Do you see food concepts as an important response to this challenge?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"My concern with any of the infotainment or other traffic-drawing efforts by retailers or malls is that they are pigeonholed as a separate entity. Integration here is key. "
"People are looking for connection and the mall offers a community. Integrating online-to-offline retailing is key."
"Not sure the survey is causal and as some have already mentioned, many other factors affect the sales numbers for mall stores."

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27 Comments on "Food halls drive mall traffic, not clothing sales"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

There’s not much landlords can do to stop the trend of shoppers going online. Mall operators are traffic aggregators and they will continue to look for ways to drive traffic into their malls. The new American Dream Meadowlands is a good example. Instead of being a shopping mall that also includes entertainment features, it’s an entertainment park that also includes shopping. Traffic for the sake of traffic does retailers no good. Food courts, waterparks and skating rinks are all well and good, but retailers need to provide shoppers with reasons to visit their stores, and not just rely on mall walkers to stumble upon their stores.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Personally, I think it’s too soon to tell. There are a lot of forces at play here. The goal is for the retailers to do their part and make their stores more shoppable, and the mall operators to do their part and make the mall a place shoppers would like to go to.

I just think a year or so into this new era is early to declare victory or defeat. There are a LOT of extraneous forces at play.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Yes. What you said! We like to get ahead of ourselves sometimes so we can have something about which to talk, or even deal a premature death knell. It is too soon. In the meantime, if malls can increase (or recover some of the lost) traffic, some of those foodies will become shoppers. Another “wait and see.”

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Great discussion topic, George! My concern with any of the infotainment or other traffic-drawing efforts by retailers or malls is that they are pigeonholed as a separate entity. Integration here is key.

What might it look like if the food hall staff were given the hottest, trendiest clothing by the surrounding apparel retailers to wear during their shift? Or the gifts or gadgets were on display on the tables of the hall for guests to touch and interact with? Doing something together is always better than going it alone.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

It was the point I wanted to make before being called into a meeting this morning. What if malls were designed to be more open – meaning you walk through the store to get to the food court? It has to be open and free flowing in order to be more engaging. Think outside the box, or should I say outside the four walls.

Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

Agree with your comments here, Dave. Integration of efforts between retailers and/or with mall management is key and can drive more sales and help generate a positive experience for shoppers.

Ray Riley
BrainTrust

This is where retail theory has gone wrong. In theory, enabling opportunities in shopping centers for human beings to congregate (food halls and co-working) is a no-brainer, until we profile the young freelance graphic designer who is utilizing the co-working space, and not purchasing new clothing. If not for sustainability reasons alone, landlords have to attract (fashion) e-commerce marketplaces to open up shop, get closer to customers, reduce waste, and be a return/exchange fulfillment point.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I believe that malls need to entertain their guests and food is a big draw. Food court fare is not going to draw people with significant disposable income so it’s important to offer a range of entertainment options such as fast casual and fine dining.

Another idea is to look for non-traditional anchor concepts like the Wegmans in the Natick, Massachusetts mall. A multi-story gem that replaced a Sears location.

Shopping is theater and even the best estimate has 70 percent of shopping still happening in a store so retailers need to be more creative with their entertainment approach.

Scott Norris
Guest

“Shopping is theater” is smack on the point, where the customer is the star and the merchandise and staff are the supporting actors. When I see the same three colors in dress shirts, and over half the inventory is “athletic/slim fit,” the floor is messy, and no sales clerks working the floor, that’s a show that I get bored with really quickly.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust
This is an old argument with a new twist. Since the beginning of shopping centers in the 1950s, malls have been a place where consumers go but not just to shop. Patrons are also there to browse, walk for exercise, and to check out the exciting promotions. When looking at malls today, they are bigger and full of a lot more exciting opportunities to spend time, with food courts, movie theaters, arcades, and amusement park rides. But the difficulty has always been … “sure we saw mall traffic, but no one came into our store.” The problem is that the retailer is not giving the customer a good reason to visit them. When looking especially at apparel, we see today more than ever an abundance of “sameness” with clothing store after clothing store all being practically identical in their merchandise, selection, and price. There is hardly any difference from shopping one brand to another, and that is the fault of the retailers. There is no creativity, or any desire to be different for fear that… Read more »
Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Are there any malls that track food hall comp sales relative to apparel retailer comp sales? If the food business is shrinking less than the apparel business, that means people eat and then walk by the apparel stores to go home and shop from their couch. That’s a pretty severe indictment on the kind of storytelling that the mall apparel retailers are executing. Surely there are aspects of “discovery” and “treasure hunt” shopping where the store beats the internet. How about store-only product? How about frequency of fresh deliveries that might incentivize the shopper to visit more frequently out of a little curiosity? How about ANYTHING other than making the % savings a bigger and bigger number?

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Malls have typically been the least agile format of retailing. That has to change for them to thrive long term. Be aware of retailing evolution as it happens, or even before it happens, and capture that wave while it is growing.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust
This is one that I don’t think is entirely on the landlords. The central issue is that fashion has changed so much in the last decade, and especially for most apparel retailers’ target customer, that unless most of them go through a complete metamorphosis their futures are not very bright. Fashion now consists of a cornucopia of new elements/challenges: used product from the past five decades, “hot now” items that go away in a matter of weeks, street wear drops that can virtually eliminate budgets, fleeting influencers, social media cancels and more. Gen Z reportedly buys most of their apparel through Instagram! As has often been said, “retail is not for the faint of heart” and boy, is that true now, especially for apparel’s physical outlets. When you see apparel retailers announce that they’re “changing everything” as some recently have (A&F, Express, etc), that is a very good thing. Having said that, it’s hard to see anything other than a downsizing of the physical footprint and the mall in general in the foreseeable future.
Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

To stop the exodus, landlords and retailers can emphasize what e-commerce lacks: immediacy, sensory and social benefits.

Consumers can immediately walk away with the merchandise, certain that a product fits. By engaging all the senses, physical stores offer a richer customer experience. Shopping with friends or asking associates questions in the moment can make the in-store experience more social and pleasant than shopping online.

Landlords and retailers also need relevant strategies. Younger consumers in particular avoid department stores, as they prefer retailers with a modern approach that adapts to serve consumers’ evolving needs.

A simpler, short-term solution is partnerships. Apparel retailers can collaborate with food chains to capitalize on mall traffic, such as offering food hall shoppers a discount on apparel purchases.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Your last paragraph reflects my thinking exactly, Lisa – or maybe I’m reflecting yours in my contribution today! I differ only in that I think it’s a long-term solution.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? This old adage is attributed to many ranging from Aristotle to Helen Keller. But how does it apply to “the mall?” Seems to me that malls are collections of independent, non-related, non-aligned entities where the only commonality is they want your money. “Every store for itself” doesn’t sound like much of a winning formula to me. This is the same problem most organizations have. They are a collection of “departments” each putting itself first and turning a blind eye to another department’s struggles. But nothing in the universe actually works that way. Years ago I was able to get a client to have an annual session where every department had to endorse the goals and strategies of the other departments including any contribution they were able and willing to make to each other’s success. Not only that, they had to do the same thing when it came to allocating budgets. The “greater good” was their driving force. Might a mall be designed and operated in… Read more »
Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

Recently I met with the General Manager of a newly renovated Simon Mall and we discussed what’s ahead. The renovation itself is telling. It includes gathering spaces throughout the mall that encourage relaxation and conversation, while offering discreet charging for devices. VR dining experiences are coming and will appeal to digital natives and entertain digital immigrants, too. With Disruptive Retail, I’m working to bring in pop-ups, certainly at in-line spaces but also in the cart and kiosk areas. This is where retailers can create interactive and engaging online-to-offline retailing that captures shoppers who are in the mall for entertainment or dining. People are looking for connection and the mall offers a community. Integrating online-to-offline retailing is key.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust
The suggestion that customers are buying apparel online vs. in the store is still way off base. Even with growth of online, over 70 percent of apparel sales are in the store. Level A malls drive plenty of traffic and plenty of transactions. Not sure the survey is causal and as some have already mentioned, many other factors affect the sales numbers for mall stores. Typically customers who are grabbing a meal still have to walk a half mile from the parking lot to reach the food hall – which for most malls is located in the middle of the mall forcing a march with screaming kids in tow past the stores and shops. This is by design at many malls. The shops are getting the visual aids, shoppers see the window dressings, and when possible making a mental note to visit one store or another on the way out. Mall owners need to think broader- The food hall is one element to help drive traffic and certainly not replacing the apparel shopper with food… Read more »
David Naumann
BrainTrust

The key point in this article is that, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, shoppers who eat at the mall spend an average of 35 extra minutes browsing stores compared to those who do not eat on their trips. This is an important fact. While extra shopping time may not directly result in increased clothing sales in the mall, what the facts don’t explain is how much that extra shopping time resulted in online sales. Showrooming is very common practice among consumers, especially for apparel. According to research from BRP Consulting, 56 percent of consumers participate in showrooming.

I think food concepts are good for malls, as anything that increases foot traffic is a good thing.

gordon arnold
Guest
The products and services that I have seen increasing in size and scope appear to have much to do with time savings. As we are slowly pulling away from the terrible financial disaster of 2008 there remains an ever increasing amount of catching up to do. Owning a home and procuring the necessary constituents to make it fully functional is a good place to start for many new-to-market people. The costs for this investment package appear to leave participants working as many hours in usually more than one job even with higher paying employment opportunity. Today we see the continuing development and range increase of prepared foods as a means to save time where little is available. So what other items are there that on their own or combined with others can save time at an affordable and even enticing price? A good place to start might be one stop shopping for cleaning services that pick up and deliver clothes. The same company might also offer housekeeping and landscape services. Along side might be catering… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I’m confused by the terminology here: (to me at least) a food HALL is one of those things in European department stores, or here in the States something like Reading Terminal Market, where one buys prepared food. A food COURT is where one actually eats. My suspicion is George is referring to the latter, actual use of the term notwithstanding.

But whatever the specifics, it’s clear what these creations aren’t: they aren’t the traditional consumer goods stores that malls counted on for traffic; and their development will bring a host of new issues ranging from vagrancy and peak period load issues to how to promote businesses that aren’t tied to the traditional shopping cycles. Strong malls will do this well and further differentiate themselves from their lower-tiered brethren, while the latter may end up with something like what is shown in the photo … a depressing experience.

Jeffrey McNulty
BrainTrust

I think it might be a bit premature to tally the results, just yet. Mall operators are experiencing a dearth of viable retail tenants with the massive disruption happening throughout the retail sector. They are scrambling to attract experiential players to offset the mass exodus of anchor tenants. Additional mall footfall does not automatically indicate a direct correlation to increased apparel revenue. Many apparel retailers are operating from the same playbook and are not innovating or evolving to cater to their guests. However, I admire and commend the mall operators for the creative and innovative endeavors they are attempting to offset the influx of available openings.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Yes, food will continue to drive traffic at malls. However, retailers have to do their part to embrace omnichannel marketing and enhance their appeal to their target market.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Fully agree with Paula Rosenblum that it’s too early to tell.

That said, those enthusiasts for mixing entertainment and shopping should take caution from what’s being found here. There’s no magic way to add entertainment to your store — especially because it’s impossible for a retailer to create entertainment which isn’t lower grade then pure entertainment.

Truth is, food courts make tremendous sense — and that department stores still struggle. Their issues are outside of what a food court can do and reflect increasing trends hurting the boring middle.

TOM F.
Guest
15 days 7 hours ago

Someone touched on “There is no creativity, or any desire to be different for fear,” which I feel is the macro issue within this topic, as well, you could extend it to specialty ecommerce stores forgetting to be “special” and often, just mimicking old big-box merchandising.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

I think it’s too early to tell. Getting traffic in is a big deal. If not, retailers would surely be in worse position. The question probably can be framed better. Is the premium to be in a mall as opposed to outside the mall, is paying off.

I have not seen a well executed coordinated promotions along with mall operator. You can buy a coupon booklet at some malls. Calvin Klein gives some coupons to shop at other brands in the family. But overall pretty lame in terms of making it attractive and Mall-Exclusive promotions. If the mall operator has done enough to attract people to come in, surely the retailers can do their part in convert them.

They have several advantages compared to online. Being able to try, having it in stock, immediate gratification and most importantly, it is not easy to do price comparison on same product, unlike commodity products like electronics. So in that sense, the “Showrooming” effect is less prevalent. On balance, I think retailers can do better at their end.

Lantz Starratt
Guest
Food concepts are interesting, there’s no doubt about that. But they are not interesting enough to draw the masses to a mall property. The fact that food concepts are being used as the driving force to a property’s tenants seems just backwards to me. For property owners and landlords, their biggest draw is having the ability to adapt with the times and not be stuck in the same thinking that has put their peers under. As Millennials and Gen-X’ers search to have that instagrammable moment, if you are still stuck on “what’s an Instagram? Eh, we do things the ole fashioned way ’round here” then I am sorry, but you are not wanting to be a successful landlord then. Because these are no longer just social media platforms, but your marketing channels to connect with your largest consumer bases. Like others have said it is the compelling, the exciting, the exclusive, the partnerships, the Veblen goods, the eclectic, the creative, the experiences that tell a story that is unique and actually worth repeating is what… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"My concern with any of the infotainment or other traffic-drawing efforts by retailers or malls is that they are pigeonholed as a separate entity. Integration here is key. "
"People are looking for connection and the mall offers a community. Integrating online-to-offline retailing is key."
"Not sure the survey is causal and as some have already mentioned, many other factors affect the sales numbers for mall stores."

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