TRD Insights: Simon reopened malls but foot traffic dragged

Anonymized cell phone location data shows mall shoppers across the US were slow to return early on

Simon Property Group CEO David Simon (Credit: Mireya Acierto/Getty Images, iStock)
Simon Property Group CEO David Simon (Credit: Mireya Acierto/Getty Images, iStock)

Despite Simon Property Group’s promise to enforce social distancing guidelines and screen potentially sick employees at the dozens of malls it planned to reopen, foot traffic dragged at those locations early on.

From May 3 through 10, overall foot traffic at those 46 reopened malls was about one quarter of its total on Jan. 1.

The information was gathered using anonymized cell phone location data from geospatial analytics company Orbital Insight.

Nationwide, the lowest-performing Simon property was the St. Louis Premium Outlets mall, where May foot traffic only reached 5 percent of its January level. Traffic in Oklahoma and Arkansas locations was also low. The Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City, the Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the McCain Mall in North Little Rock, Arkansas together averaged just 18 percent of traffic on Jan. 1. Both states are also among the ones with the least restrictive coronavirus-related rules nationwide.

Georgia and South Carolina were the only states where average foot traffic broke 30 percent of its Jan. 1 level. The average foot traffic in Georgia was skewed by the Calhoun Outlet Marketplace in Calhoun, where foot traffic reached nearly 90 percent of its previous level. That was the highest total recorded at any Simon location Orbital Insight examined.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

The coronavirus pandemic has been a coup de grace for malls and big-box retailers, many of whom were already victims of a retail apocalypse that spanned the last decade. In May, Neiman Marcus filed for bankruptcy protection and JCPenney announced it would sell its 242 stores as part of its bankruptcy restructuring. And it’s probably only going to get worse over time: Ratings houses expect retail vacancy rates to break all-time highs over the next several quarters.