• Hannah Smith

Future of American Malls

While shopping malls were made into American icons in the 90s with Mallrats, they’ve been around since the late 1950s for consumers of all ages to enjoy.

America it seemed, as a whole, loved the convenience that malls brought with them. Who needs to waste gas driving to all those different types of stores, when you could go to the mall and be within walking distance of each of them?

While malls have had their own issues since their inception (worry about malls killing small/local businesses, and thus having a negative impact on the local economy), they continued to prosper for almost half a century. Since the advent of online shopping, year after year there's been talk of malls eventually dying off. Now, it seems that COVID-19 may have been the final strike of the nail in the coffin of the American mall system.

Convenience is what originally drove the masses to the malls, but in recent years, it’s also what’s been driving them out. It’s now more convenient to click “1-day delivery”, scour the internet for the best deal, or the best coupons than it is to physically drive to a mall, and spend a few hours walking around looking for your desired items.

In the age of this ongoing pandemic, for the safety of both the employees and customers alike, malls have been shuttered. But now the question is, will they be able to reopen when the time comes? The almost thoughtless process of online ordering makes it safer for consumers during this time, but that doesn’t guarantee we won’t need or want physical locations of these stores in the future.

The way we see it, there are a few possible futures for the American mall:

An idea that some have been toying with is one physical store per geographical area, where you can try on stock in person and order it online if you like it, or take in your online returns. We also need to take into account the fact that some people (historically, usually teenagers and young adults) like to use the mall to walk around or hang out after school, rather than going strictly to shop. Malls are as much a social space as they are a consumer space, with vast food courts for shoppers to sit and rest a while with their hauls, before either deciding to pack it in for the day or continue onwards to the next store.

Or, we could be headed for the total decimation of malls. Some have speculated that brick and mortar stores will disappear completely as online shopping habits increase, so malls will lay empty, waiting for that space to be transformed (perhaps into apartments, like Seattle). This is the future everyone likes to talk about, the “death” of the American mall as we know it. While physical stores have been getting less and less visitors since the boom in online shopping, they hang on year after year, refusing to surrender just yet.

While the future of America’s malls lay uncertain for now, these vast consumer spaces will still prove useful, whether that’s through a conversion to housing space or kept as retail space.