Jeff Bezos’s publicized reign as the richest man in the world lasted only a few hours, but it pointed to a new era in commerce, one that has already been asserting itself across markets, one in which malls are in decline and online shopping is king.
Online sales makes up 10% of commerce. Sales at Amazon alone have skyrocketed, from $3 billion to $80 billion in the past decade. Some estimates suggest that as many as half of households in the United States subscribe to Amazon Prime. Even mobile commerce, once frustrating and inconvenient due to slow browsers and pop up windows, is up, due to countless shopping apps that allow you to do everything from purchasing books and movies to toiletries and food.
That’s hitting all retailers that exist within physical locations. Big box stores, which often appear in malls as “anchor stores” are especially hard hit. J.C. Penney, RadioShack, Macy’s, and Sears have seen many store closures in past years. Other stores, including Payless Shoes, have declared bankruptcy, and Sports Authority has been entirely liquidated. Other companies, though perhaps not hit quite so hard, are nonetheless experiencing new lows due to the encroachment of online shopping.
But malls seem to be suffering the worst. The value of shopping malls has gone down 40 percent. Malls are often more expensive real estate, due to the space they take up. Retailers in malls rely on the assumption that customers visiting the mall will make small impulse purchases in addition to whatever purchases they intended to make. The malls of yesteryear also reaped the benefits of “therapy shopping,” in which shoppers visit malls for something to do, and by making a few small purchases, feel a sense of accomplishment. But therapy shopping has lost popularity in past years, possibly due to tightening budgets and increasing frugality, especially in the millennial generation.
Mall shopping has remained something of a past time, although not as popular of one as in years past. “Entertainment malls,” high-end malls that are designed for the experience, are doing the best, while simpler malls designed merely for retail are harder hit.
The result is emptying malls and rising delinquencies on mortgages. $120 billion in commercials mortgages are maturing this year, and of those, we’ve already seen $2.4 billion in delinquencies. It’s been the largest rise in delinquencies in six years, and the year isn’t over yet.
The fall of the malls is not entirely the fault of online shopping. Prior to the establishment of the Internet, the number of malls in America had risen perhaps unsustainably, growing more than two times as fast as the population in the past fifty years. Is it the end of the mall? Not yet. 80% of malls are still healthy, although that’s down from 94%. Unless there’s a major shift in the commercial market, the decline of the shopping mall will keep going, but it will take some time.