The future of shopping in person is looking bleak

By: Grace Coughlan, Associate Editor

Growing up with a limited amount of female cousins, my grandmother made it a priority to take my cousin and I on a yearly shopping trip to our local mall before we all started the school year. These yearly shopping trips were a bonding experience for me, allowing me the opportunity to spend more time with my family before the stress and chaos of school and work started. These experiences became a lot more meaningful once we started leaving for college and spending more time away from each other. 

Not only has “going to the mall” become a bonding experience between families but it’s served as a meet-up spot for my friends and I. My best friend and I make a point to go to the mall together at least once during the holidays and once before we both leave for school. Additionally, my local mall provides work for me. I currently work at American Eagle. 

COVID-19 has reshaped the relationship between customer and company, and the in-person shopping experience has shifted since online shopping has become increasingly appealing. 

According to Lauren Thomas, a writer for CNBC, there is an estimate that 25% of the 1,000 malls in America will face closure in the next three to five years. 

“Demand for various commercial real estate asset types is expected to shift noticeably because of the coronavirus pandemic, with more people now working from home, flocking to the suburbs for space and buying online things they used to browse for in stores,” said Thomas. 

In March, retail sales saw a tremendous loss as a result of the prioritization of essential goods, like food and medical supplies during the months of quarantine. Clothing and apparel items, as well as shoes, weren’t seen as necessities while facing a global pandemic. 

According to the US Census Bureau, the US retail sales for March of 2020 were down 6.2% in comparison to March of 2019. Specifically, there was a 24% sales drop for department stores and a 51% sales drop for clothing and accessory retailers. 

J. Crew was the first national retailer to file for bankruptcy protection during the coronavirus pandemic, on May 4. Many other retailers, like Sears, J.C. Penney, and Neiman Marcus have faced financial pressure during the pandemic. 

As a retail worker working during the pandemic, I saw a lot of customers coming into our stores to return online orders that they purchased during quarantine. When my local American Eagle store first opened back up, most of our customers coming in were returning items, then shopping in the store to find a different size. 

I believe that shopping online is ideal until you have to return something. As a young adult, I love online shopping. Whether it’s clothing for myself, presents for my family, or textbooks for school, online shopping has benefited me. Well that is until I have to drive to the post office and buy a new label in order to return any items that are unsatisfactory to me. While a lot of retailers provide free shipping, most offer free shipping only after you spend a certain amount of money. 

While you still have to drive to a mall to return items, fitting rooms provide customers to try on clothing, giving them the benefit of seeing if the items are comfortable or fit the way the customers want them to. This is where I believe the fate of malls is going to run into a problem. 

With COVID-19, individual retailers are taking different precautions and setting different capacity numbers, with consideration of store size and design layout. Many retailers have shut down fitting rooms in order to protect customers and limit exposure of the customers in the store, which can hurt their sales. 

The shift to a more online shopping store is coming rapidly, and it leaves me asking the bigger question, what will physical retail stores and malls look like in the coming years?

 

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