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In a Pandemic, People Choose Outlet Malls Over Other Shopping Centers — Here’s Why

In the era of COVID-19, as people and whole economies crumble under the weight of its ripple effects, no person or company is truly winning.

However, a new report from Placer.ai indicates that when it comes to shopping centers, not all such spaces are feeling the negative impact of the health crisis to the same degree.

A new report from market research firm Placer.ai found that outlet malls are recovering at a much faster rate than their peers: Year over year weekly data for Sept. 28 shows visits to outdoor malls were down 23.6% while indoor centers declined 33.2%. At outlet malls, however, average traffic for that same week was down just 9.3% — an indication that such centers are closing in on their prior year’s levels.

And it’s all part of a persistent trend Placer and other research firms have documented since March. According to Placer, outlet malls are outperforming their counterparts amid the pandemic for two key reasons: They have a “clear value orientation” as many retailers leverage these locations to offer off-price deals — a significant advantage for consumers in a challenging macroeconomic environment marked by record-high unemployment as well as general angst and uncertainty. (In short, shoppers are more deal-hungry than ever.)

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Secondly, many outlets are outside, a growing preference for consumers who are generally skittish of enclosed spaces due to the viral nature of COVID-19.

“The ability to provide a ‘mall-esque’ experience in an open-air environment where social distancing is less of a clear concern is uniquely appealing when consumers clearly miss that shopping option,” Placer said the report, adding that such spaces are also “well-suited to mission-driven” shopping patterns, which are on the uptick as people do much less browsing in the current climate.

For the report, Placer looked at eleven outlet malls across the country in states such as New York, Texas, California and Illinois, and saw positive trends across the board. Overall, each center’s traffic improved “dramatically” with an average year over year visit decline of 26.9% in August but shrinking to just 12.8% in September.

Meanwhile, as the holiday shopping season unfolds and temperatures drop across the country, it remains to be seen whether current patterns will continue. A study released last week by the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America, in partnership with Emerson College Polling, found that 21% of shoppers don’t feel comfortable shopping in stores at all even as retailers implement new COVID-19-related safety measures, including requiring the use of face masks as well as implementing extra cleaning measures for high-traffic and high-touch areas like checkouts and shopping carts.

Nevertheless, if shoppers were to visit a physical location to look at, try on or buy shoes, the FDRA found that 36% would choose to go to malls, while 17% of respondents said they would stop at a strip mall, 14% would opt for a department store and 13% would choose a big-box retailer like Target.

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