Mall traffic has been declining for years in the United States, as traditional anchor stores like Sears Holdings have lost their relevance, and more consumers opt for the convenience of e-commerce. However, this weakness isn't distributed equally among U.S. malls.
In this episode of Industry Focus: Consumer Goods, senior Fool.com contributor Adam Levine-Weinberg shares details from his experience visiting popular malls in the Sacramento area on Black Friday.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Nov. 28, 2017.
Vincent Shen: Now, we have the management comments and initial data points that we discussed so far. But Adam, I want you to share some of your takeaways from your own experience venturing out on Black Friday. What jumped out to you the most?
Adam Levine-Weinberg: From a big picture level, what I saw confirmed what we already knew, which was there's a really big difference between good malls, bad malls, and great malls. That's what I experienced visiting some of the malls in the Sacramento area over Black Friday. I started out in Arden Fair Mall, which is the closest mall to downtown Sacramento. It's a very well-performing mall. It's mostly full, it's mostly national brands, there's a lot of the top brands that people want to shop for. It doesn't have a lot of the super luxury items, though. So if you go there on a typical weekend, it's actually quite busy, but it generally caters to a moderate-income clientele. So on Black Friday, when I went there, I was able to park without any trouble, but it was still a fair walk away from the entrance, and I parked deliberately on the Sears side, because I was strategically guessing that would be the least busy.
Shen: [laughs] Sure.
Levine-Weinberg: I actually discovered the Sears at that mall was quite busy, which was somewhat of a surprise. But in many of the departments, there were a lot of people there. I then went, after the trip to Arden Fair Mall, so Sunrise Mall, which is the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a struggling mall that's in a pretty good location but has just lost a lot of its tenants. It doesn't have very good highway access, so it's a little bit out of the way. As a result, you drive in, you can park very close, even on Black Friday. In the big anchors, there were a fair number of shoppers but not nearly as many as you could see at Arden Fair. And when you walked through the interior of the mall, it was kind of depressing. There weren't that many people there. A lot of empty storefronts. The new trick is, you put a wall with a vending machine instead of having a store, just to make it look less empty. But even so, there were lots of storefronts where there clearly were things. The food court only had two-thirds of the stalls filled. S, it was pretty clear that this mall is on the rocks right now.
After that, I went to Westfield Galleria at Roseville, which is by far the best mall in this region. Sales per square foot are 25% to 30% ahead of even Arden Fair, which, as I said, is a pretty good mall. This is where all the top luxury brands go in the Sacramento area. And I drove around the parking lot 15 or 20 minutes around 1 o'clock in the afternoon and could not find a parking space. So I eventually bailed out. But what you could tell from that is, the malls that are not doing well, like the Sunrise Mall that I mentioned earlier, those malls may be dead or dying. But the best malls in the country are still hopping. There are lots of people out on a day like Black Friday, to the point where they were probably losing traffic, people like me, who just found it too difficult to get in.
Shen: It was that busy.
Levine-Weinberg: Yeah, it was just that busy.
Shen: And that seems to be something that we've touched down in the past, with the malls that service a wealthier, more premium clientele and market. Those have tended to hold up much better than the malls on the lower end of the price spectrum.