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Research Preview: The State of the American Mall

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Dying shopping malls are points of cultural fascination in the US, and content on the death of the American mall generates intense nostalgia among Americans who grew up enjoying these cultural destinations. Yet the picture is nuanced and top-tier American malls are outperforming. This Research Preview offers an early look at our data-driven research into the American mall format, analyzing occupancy rates and traffic trends. Our forthcoming full report includes analysis of further metrics.

For our analysis, we divide malls into three tiers: top-tier malls (featuring luxury retailers and newer direct-to-consumer brands; often located in more affluent areas); mid-tier malls (malls that have anchor retailers and few or no vacancies; located in moderately affluent neighborhoods); and low-tier malls (malls that have an empty anchor, declining sales and a less-affluent customer demographic).

Research Preview: The State of the American Mall

Market Scale and Opportunity

According to data from ICSC (formerly the International Council of Shopping Centers), malls make up a shrinking proportion of total US retail gross leasable brick-and-mortar area—down to 5.5% in 2023 from 5.7% in 2014.

ICSC estimates that 12.9% of US consumer expenditure on retail goods, food services and other retail-adjacent services went through malls in the first quarter of 2023—meaning malls capture a greater share of sales than their share of space and, so, have higher sales productivity in terms of gross leasable area than other retail formats such as open-air shopping centers (which account for 34.3% of total US retail gross leasable area but saw 41.7% of consumer expenditure on goods and services flow through the channel in the first quarter of 2023, according to data from ICSC). High sales productivity is more pronounced at top-tier malls, which enjoy a more affluent customer base and are located in desirable areas for retailers to build and maintain their brand image.

Retail and retail-adjacent services expenditure at malls totaled $728.9 billion in 2021 and $818.7 billion in 2022, according to ICSC—representing an 11.2% year-over-year increase.

Strong Occupancy Rates Indicate the Good Health of the Mall Landscape

Occupancy is an area where mall performance is generally strong, pointing to heightened demand for real estate from retailers. Across top-tier malls, occupancy stood at an average of 95.1% in 2022, in line with pre-pandemic occupancy levels, we calculate from S&P Capital IQ data. Among non-top-tier malls, occupancy was strong in 2022 but still lagging pre-pandemic levels. Our data on occupancy represent public mall operators and exclude privately owned mall operators.

Figure 1. Average Occupancy Rate: Top-Tier vs. Non-Top-Tier Malls (%)

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Data from public mall operators
Source: Company reports/S&P Capital IQ/Coresight Research


Further indicating demand for retail space, year-over-year growth in the average minimum base rent at top-tier malls stood in the mid-teens percentage range for four consecutive quarters, from the fourth quarter of 2021, we calculate from S&P Capital IQ data.

Mall Traffic Exceeds Pre-Pandemic Levels and Continues To Grow

Following pandemic-led disruption and temporary physical retail closures in 2020 and 2021, malls saw a recovery in foot traffic in 2022, based on a random sampling of 120 malls from, conducted by Coresight Research. In fact, by this measure, malls are thriving: traffic at top-tier malls was up 12% on average in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic 2019 levels, while traffic at non-top-tier malls was up 10%.

Figure 2. Change in Mall Traffic Compared to Pre-Pandemic 2019 Levels (%)

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Source: Research


Factors Supporting Growth for Malls

We identify a number of factors supporting growth for malls, and our forthcoming full report discusses these in detail:

  • A multichannel presence can produce a halo effect for brands, boosting sales and reducing customer acquisition costs. A number of brands and retailers report that establishing an offline presence supports online sales growth in new stores’ catchment areas.
  • Collective brand synergy in physical retail can increase sales. Brand synergy is the idea that brands generate more value by being in close proximity to other high-value or sought-after brands, which brands leverage to identify new locations that are likely to be successful.
  • Top-tier mall operators have the financial resources to continually reinvest in and renovate malls to meet evolving demand for high-quality experiences.
  • Malls can drive sales and improve the customer experience through investment in omnichannel. Mall owners’ investments in building out omnichannel capabilities can enable a more convenient shopping experience for consumers.

Upcoming Research on the State of the American Mall

Our forthcoming full report takes an in-depth look at mall metrics and the factors that are impacting mall performance, analyzing the halo effect of omnichannel, rising online customer acquisition and marketing costs, changing consumption patterns and more.