Online shopping’s domination over shopping habits for young adults has created concern over the decline of brick-and-mortar stores, especially over malls. Starting in 1956 with the Southdale Mall in Minnesota, the mall went through changes, reflecting the culture at the time to become what they are today.
There is speculation that the mall is “dying” in the modern era. However, there is little physical evidence to support this. A large amount of the American public continues to visit malls every year, with “foot traffic in top-tier malls was up by 12% in 2022 compared to 2019, while traffic in lower-tier malls was up 10%,” according to a CNN report in August 2023. Shopping centers are still a billion-dollar market across America that shows no sign of stopping, with top-tier malls experiencing a growth rate of 5% and lower-tower malls experiencing a growth rate of 9% between 2020 and 2022.
Some of these increases may be due to the resurgence of in-person shopping following the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these margins still demonstrate the use of malls in our society as a hub for shopping and leisure, according to a June 2022 CNN report.
Despite the figures, malls are deemed unsuccessful ventures that will soon fade from our culture because of modern developments in shopping. Online shopping is exceedingly popular, with 268 million American shoppers buying items online in 2022. Regardless of its success, e-commerce has its follies, such as additional handling costs and slow shipping times.
Beyond online shopping, surplus stores under the TJX umbrella (T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods, Marshalls and more) provide a varied selection of “ever-changing selections of high quality, fashionable, brand name and designer merchandise at prices generally 20% to 60% below full-price retailers.” With the benefit of all their products being condensed into one mid-sized store, TJX properties present a more potent danger to shopping malls than online shopping does.
With competitors like these staying strong, malls continue to see success despite the broader perception that malls are failing. Rather than the physical success of malls changing, it is the culture surrounding them that has evolved as time progresses. While malls were formerly hubs for entertainment and leisure for the youth, they do not need to visit the mall for fun or socialization, as reported by Business Insider. The functions of cell phones and computers can fulfill most needs of the modern teen.
This decline between teens and shopping centers has been observed since 2014, as Madeline Vera detailed in her account of mall culture on NPR in 2014. Vera concludes through her interviews with employees and parents that teens seeking independence are less likely to go to the mall due to the strict limits on underage visitors and the desire to use technology instead. However, since 2014, malls have still held a large audience of pre-teens with limited access to technology and are willing to be accompanied by a chaperone when shopping.
This trend persisted a decade later, as 2022 attendance in malls from individuals aged between 18 and 24 fell 8% from previous years. Pre-teens still leave their mark as regulars using the space as their sanctuary. Whether they respect the shopping center in their pursuit of entertainment is less pertinent. Malls such as the Garden State Plaza in New Jersey have implemented more limits on underaged shoppers, with chaperones required for people 18 and under after 5 p.m. to limit unruly behavior, as reported by Fortune.
While the culture of malls has changed, there are no financial signs of the decline for the American retail complex. Shopping centers continued to open in recent years, a notable example being the debut of New Jersey’s American Dream Mall in 2019, making it the second-largest mall in the country. Whether the mall will persist as a hub for culture and socialization for future generations is to be seen.