Will shoppers go to the mall because Simon says it’s okay?

Photo: Simon Property Group
Apr 29, 2020
George Anderson

Simon Property Group is preparing to reopen its malls to customers in 10 states. An internal memo sent to retailers and leaked to media outlets outlines the mall operator’s plan to reopen 49 facilities between May 1 and May 4.

Business hours at the malls located in Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas will not immediately return to their pre-pandemic norms. The shopping centers will be open between 11:00 and 7:00 Monday through Saturday and 12:00 to 6:00 on Sunday, allowing cleaning crews more time to sanitize door handles and other surfaces throughout.

Each mall will offer free infrared temperature testing for customers and CDC-approved face masks and packets of hand sanitizer for shoppers to wear. The mall operator is taking steps, including limiting the seating in food courts and keeping play areas closed, to try and maintain proper social distancing.  Simon employees are required to wear masks (customers are encouraged to do so) and to take frequent breaks to wash their hands.

It is not known how many retail tenants plan to follow Simon’s lead and reopen stores. Many retailers, particularly department stores and specialty clothing chains, have been hit hard by store closures, and some have withheld rent payments in an effort to maintain liquidity. Even those reluctant to reopen in states where the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to climb may feel they have no choice if they wish to remain viable as a business.

The other question that remains is whether shoppers will return to mall properties in a significant way. Shopper traffic at malls, in general, was falling well before more than a million Americans were infected with the novel coronavirus. Will they be just as willing to go now?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will shoppers go to malls once they reopen? Do you think Simon Property Group is taking the proper precautions to safeguard the health of shoppers and workers in these facilities?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Simon Property is doing the best they can to follow the guidelines, but I think this is going to be challenging to execute if people come to the malls in larger numbers. "
"To those thinking we can keep American retail closed until there’s a vaccine, why haven’t we seen Target and Walmart become hot beds of COVID-19...?"
"These early (premature?) openings may not be the best examples of how to move forward, or even what the future of shopping will look like."

Join the Discussion!

44 Comments on "Will shoppers go to the mall because Simon says it’s okay?"

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Mark Ryski

Yes, some shoppers will go to the mall. Whether it’s to shop or just to do an activity that feels normal, if they open, people will most certainly come. The bigger question is, how many will come? Simon Property is doing the best they can to follow the guidelines, but I think this is going to be challenging to execute if people come to the malls in larger numbers. The other big question is about the retailer tenants. No question all retailers are anxious to open their stores, so I’d expect that many retail tenants will make every effort to open as best they can. While I think this is an encouraging step, I’m not yet convinced that it’s completely safe.

Suresh Chaganti

If governors in the respective states have approved non-essentials to open up, then it is game. How enthusiastic the shoppers will be remains to be seen. But Simon seems to be taking all the required precautions.

If Walmart and Costco are operating, busy and as thriving as they have ever been, I don’t see how a mall environment is any more risky, with the same or better level of precautions. For instance I don’t see either Walmart or Costco offering masks or infrared temperature checks yet.

Ben Ball

Mark and Suresh:
You have covered the pertinent points. Somebody has to step out and establish reasonable guidelines. And we can expect all businesses to follow them as published. Whether consumers choose to take advantage of that opportunity is up to them. As to the discussion question posed, “Do you think…” Well, this is an opinion forum and nobody has more opinions than me, so I guess that’s OK. But my opinion on this question is that no one writing regularly on this site has the answer to that question. Just like consumers and business owners, we are all going to have to follow our own best judgment on this one.

Ken Morris

It depends on where you live. There is a big disconnect between states where the pandemic has hit hardest and those that have not yet experienced the wave. The question is will the wave be a mild swell or a tsunami. For many retailers to survive they must open with restrictions and safeguards. I believe Simon should offer gloves as well as the masks and hand sanitizer. It will be interesting to see if we have pent-up shopping demand once we open back up. Will off-price be a big winner as it was after 9/11? We shall see.

Bethany Allee

Unless Simon/other malls can prove that malls are a safe space, no thanks. Optional thermal testing? No, thanks. Mandatory testing is what will make other shoppers feel safer. Are the masks required? If not, again, no, thanks.

Malls do have a unique opportunity to give consumers a safe place to roam around in public, but there must be more mandates and less suggestions for this to be a reality.

Scott Norris

The thermal testing has been shown to be essentially worthless, given the high proportion of asymptomatic cases. It’s a “safety theater” move. And far too many people are still walking around without masks. What kind of insurance rider is Simon having to pay for when someone inevitably gets sick and/or dies from being in one of their malls?

Dick Seesel

I’m assuming that one of the malls Simon plans to reopen is the massive Galleria Mall in Houston — almost 2.5 million square feet, and the busiest mall I’ve visited in a long time (last fall). People are eager to emerge from their caves, no doubt, but Simon faces some big hurdles convincing shoppers that the Galleria and other malls have the right health protocols in place. How do you police the foot traffic (and thus the lack of social distancing) in a huge facility with multiple entry points? How do you ensure that every surface is adequately sanitized?

Bottom line: It’s not just about when Simon wants to reopen, but how well its tenants (and its own management) are prepared. It will take some time and some convincing to bring the customers back, even to the strongest malls.

Paula Rosenblum

Not until there’s a vaccine. No. People do not know how to practice social distancing in malls. Certainly not where I live, and it’s fair to say not in many other cities. Can’t fix ignorance and I don’t think the non-ignorant will want to play

Paula Rosenblum

For those of you who doubt what I’m saying, or think I’m being alarmist … I had to call the police to my house this morning over some issues with a neighbor. Of the four that showed up, only 2 were wearing masks.

If law enforcement can’t do it, do you really think the average person is going to? To go shopping?

Ed Rosenbaum

We see too many examples each day of people in high places telling us what to do to be safe; but they are not doing anything they tell us to do. Do as I say and not as I do. So what should we expect except what you experienced?

Neil Saunders

Some will and some will not. Our own surveys show that consumer opinion is very split on this issue with many being afraid to venture out, and some positively chomping at the bit to be allowed back into stores. One thing that comes out clearly is the fact that enclosed malls are one of the retail spaces consumers are most fearful of, so there is quite a lot of convincing to do to get people to return.

Ultimately, it’s not just a matter of getting people back through the doors. You also have to get them spending which will be quite a task given the amount of damage done to people’s finances and confidence during this crisis.

Michael La Kier

Retailers deciding to open does not equal shoppers shopping. Shopper confidence has been shot from an emotional, physical, and financial perspective. Recovery will take time. Most shoppers will likely be reluctant to shop not knowing what retailers will be open. Here in Georgia, some non-essential businesses opened this weekend to lines and some had zero shoppers over the weekend. Opening right now is a crap shoot.

Richard Hernandez

I think a lot of shoppers will do a wait-and-see for a few weeks before they venture to a mall. Also, how will the mall police the capacity limits? Here in Texas we have a 25 percent capacity cap right now for a few weeks.

Bob Amster

The response will vary geographically, demographically, and yes, politically, as I watch in cynical amazement.

Mohamed Amer

This is kind of like being a freshman at your first high school dance. The dance floor looks interesting but do you have the courage to step out there and join in the apparent fun? There’s hesitation and for some downright fear. For others, they can’t wait to get out there and express themselves.

In our case, the mall as dance floor also has its own concerns. This dance is among a variety of consumers with a wide ranging risk appetites and a mall operator hoping to have brought the right tunes to create a safe environment that suits who shows up. Things will be touch and go at first, but we’ll slowly start warming up to the possibilities; it’s going to be a long night and we may need a few dances under our belt before we shed our freshman inhibitions.

Shep Hyken

People want to get out. They want to resume life as “normal,” however we’re still a long way from that. Even with malls opening, the guidelines for healthy safe behavior have changed. Shoppers will have to adapt. Stores and malls will have to enforce safety. The risk of backsliding right now is too high. There is a line in the sand that Simon and all mall owners/management companies must draw – and it can’t be crossed by shoppers or retailers.

Dick Seesel

Yes, the stores’ and mall operators’ willingness to enforce safety is the key. How many retailers are accustomed to turning away customers, or removing fixtures, in order to maintain safe social distancing? It’s not in their DNA.

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
11 months 19 days ago

Enforcement is the real key. However, how much enforcement is too much? Do mall employees need the ability to tell customers who aren’t properly social distancing to leave the mall? And if they refuse? If this escalates does the situation get worse or better? Perhaps the best answer is to limit the number of entrances and limit the number of people allowed to enter at a time, much as essential retailers have been doing to date.

Bob Phibbs

On the other hand, would you have wanted them to say they were going to have armed guards and unless you came in with a mask and had a temperature check you would not be allowed in, and that they had added social distancing agents to police the six-foot rule throughout?

To those thinking we can keep American retail closed until there’s a vaccine, why haven’t we seen Target and Walmart become hot beds of COVID-19 with all the people who have been walking in and out without masks, gloves, or social distancing for months now? Wouldn’t you have thought that those precautions would’ve been needed to end up with that result?

There has to be a balance we have to arrive at in order for normality to return; not at any cost, but we will never have zero risk on anything.