Report shows ‘very volatile environment’ for malls — Down to Business

A look at an entrance to the French Mountain Commons outlets in Lake George in 2019.
A look at an entrance to the French Mountain Commons outlets in Lake George in 2019.
Article Audio:

French was in the air at the outlets in Lake George on Labor Day — a Canadian tour bus parked nearby providing context.

The visitors helped fill stores at the popular retail destination, where some dressing rooms had waiting lines. Meantime, a steady crawl of vehicles along Route 9 promised ever-more shoppers.

The picture might have buoyed folks who watch mall visits, who caught their breath when a steady month-over-month increase between May and July suddenly reversed.

Outlet malls, which saw monthly visits rise 17% in July over June, saw them drop almost 6% in August. Indoor malls and open-air “lifestyle” centers followed a similar up-up-up-down pattern, according to, a location analytics firm that tracks consumer foot traffic.

The company puts out a monthly mall index report analyzing data from 100 top-tier indoor malls, 100 lifestyle centers and 100 outlet malls across the country, in both urban and suburban settings.

The latest report cited “economic headwinds” for the visit drop in August, including a decline in consumer confidence and evidence that middle-income shoppers are tapping the brakes on spending while grocery and gasoline prices remain high.

But the report also noted that the month-over-month drop in visits in August may have been offset somewhat as shoppers consolidated their trips in the interest of saving on gas but spent more time at the malls. Median “dwell time” for all mall formats was higher last month when compared to August 2022, the report said.

In a webinar on “The State of Malls in 2023,” held on the same day as the August report’s release, Ethan Chernofsky, a senior vice president at, pointed to the “very volatile environment” malls are operating in today.

“Since the pandemic ended, and even though we might have expected some degree of normalcy, we’ve seen economic challenges, we’ve seen high gas prices and all the elements that impact the consumer and the visit,” he said.

Indeed, the government reported last week that overall inflation rose in August, largely due to a sharp jump in gasoline prices.

The report called out back-to-school shopping — No. 2 in revenue for retailers behind the Christmas holidays — by raising a “what happened?” question because foot traffic in the last few years has dipped toward the end of August, just as the season peaks.

This year, cross-visit data showed that a larger share of visitors to indoor malls also went to value-priced superstores, discount chains and off-price retailers in July-August versus 2022, in search of lower prices.

At the Gap outlet in Lake George on Labor Day, where the chain’s popular apparel is discounted, a mother and grandmother appeared to be negotiating a first-day-of-school outfit with an elementary-aged girl whose favorite color was plum.

The women showed the youngster various combinations of top, skirt and leggings in plum — all from the store’s off-price racks, which offered even further discounts.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].

Categories: Business, Opinion

Leave a Reply