Shoppers Prefer Staying Outdoors. That’s More Trouble for Malls. - Kanebridge News
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Shoppers Prefer Staying Outdoors. That’s More Trouble for Malls.

Bath & Body Works, Foot Locker are among retailers ditching malls for strip centers, other shopping outlets

By KATE KING
Tue, Jan 16, 2024 9:18amGrey Clock 3 min

National chains are accelerating their exit from malls for other types of retail locations, signalling more trouble for malls as consumers show a growing preference for shorter, more convenient shopping experiences.

Jewellers, shoe stores and other specialty retailers are among the operators making the shift, indicating they will continue opening at outdoor, non-mall locations such as grocery-anchored shopping centres and strip malls after finding that they perform better and typically save on costs.

“These retailers are going to grow more confident that they’re barking up the right tree as they continue to see quarter after quarter after quarter of outperformance in their off-mall locations,” said Brandon Svec, national director of U.S. retail analytics for data firm CoStar Group.

Bath & Body Works, which for years sold scented soaps and body creams to mall goers, is on track to open about 95 new locations for the fiscal year ending in February, while closing about 50, primarily in struggling malls. More than half of its 1,840 stores in the U.S. and Canada are now located outside of enclosed shopping centres.

Foot Locker said it is aiming to operate half of its North American square footage outside enclosed shopping centres by 2026, up from 36% in the third quarter.

Signet Jewelers, which owns brands such as Kay Jewelers, Zales and Jared, is closing up to 150 locations in the U.S. and U.K. by mid-2024, nearly all in traditional malls. Company executives told investors last year that off-mall locations had stronger sales margins, and about 60% of its total square footage is now outside malls.

Not all retailers are exiting from malls. Publicly traded mall owners Simon Property Group and Macerich, which primarily own higher-end centres, have reported record-high leasing volume over the past year as retailers such as Hermès, Warby Parker and Alo Yoga have taken space.

But foot traffic to U.S. malls was down 4% on average in 2023 from the prior year, and about 12% lower than 2019 levels, according to real-estate data firm Green Street.

Low-end malls have seen the biggest drops in customer visits, partially because department stores have closed in higher numbers at these properties since 2017.

Online-sales data have also helped retailers pinpoint locations for successful stores with better accuracy than in the past.

“You know where your customer is buying and where they live,” said Scott Lipesky, chief financial and operating officer for Abercrombie & Fitch. “We’re looking at this digital shipping data, and we just plop a store down in the middle of it.”

Recently, Abercrombie & Fitch has been opening in city shopping districts in an effort to get closer to younger millennials and recent college graduates.

Visits to outdoor shopping centres have increased since the pandemic as the rise in remote work has given people the time and flexibility to run errands more frequently and closer to home.

Outdoor shopping and strip centres also appeal to retailers who are increasingly allowing customers to pick up or return items bought online, CoStar’s Svec said. These shoppers want to get in and out of stores quickly, and not spend time navigating large parking garages or walking across the mall.

Increasing demand for open-air space has driven up shopping-centre rents to nearly $24 a square foot, the highest level since real-estate firm Cushman & Wakefield began tracking the metric in 2007.

But moving out of malls can still help retailers cut costs, particularly the common-area and maintenance charges that landlords pass on to tenants to help pay for the property’s upkeep.

Owners of enclosed malls are saddled with a host of additional expenses compared with open-air shopping centres, such as keeping the indoor walkways clean, repairing the heating and ventilation systems and maintaining the restrooms.

“It’s a lot more than blowing leaves out of a parking lot,” said Jim Taylor, chief executive of Brixmor Property Group, a real-estate investment trust that owns about 365 shopping centres across the U.S.

Taylor said he started to notice traditional-mall tenants moving into Brixmor centres several years ago. More recently, he has seen an increase in the types of retailers making the move, including those in the beauty, footwear, jewellery and housewares business.

“We’re seeing them come into the open-air centres because of the proximity and convenience to the customer,” he said.



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Home prices declined at a faster pace in May in major cities, while other data show a mixed picture for the world’s second-largest economy

By REBECCA FENG
Tue, Jun 18, 2024 3 min

China’s broken housing market isn’t responding to some of the country’s boldest stimulus measures to date—at least not yet.

The Chinese government has been stepping up support for housing and other industries in recent months as it tries to revitalize an economy that has  continued to disappoint  since the early days of the pandemic.

But fresh data for May showed that businesses and consumers remain cautious. Home prices continue to fall at an accelerating rate, and fixed-asset investment and industrial production, while growing, lost some momentum.

“China’s May economic data suggest that policymakers have a lot to do to sustain the fragile recovery,” Yao Wei, chief China economist at Société Générale, wrote in a client note on Monday.

The worst pain is in the property sector, which has been struggling to deal with oversupply and weak buyer sentiment since 2021, when a multiyear  housing boom ended . The market still doesn’t appear to have found a floor, even after Beijing rolled out its most aggressive stimulus measures so far  in mid-May  in hopes of restoring confidence.

In major cities, new-home prices fell 4.3% in May compared with a year earlier, worse than a   3.5% decline in April, according to data released Monday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Prices in China’s secondhand home market tumbled 7.5%, compared with a 6.8% drop in April.

Home sales by value tumbled 30.5% in the first five months of this year compared with the same months last year.

“This data was certainly on the disappointing side and may ring some alarm bells, as May’s policy support package has not yet translated to a slower decline of housing prices, let alone a stabilisation,” said Lynn Song, chief China economist at ING.

Economists had also been hoping to see a wider recovery this month after Beijing started  rolling out  a planned issuance of 1 trillion yuan, the equivalent of $138 billion, in ultra-long sovereign bonds in May. The funds are designed to help pay for infrastructure and property projects backed by the authorities. Investors  gobbled up  the first batch of these bonds.

Monday’s bundle of economic data, however, underlined how the country still isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Retail sales, a key metric of consumer spending, rose 3.7% in May from a year earlier, compared with 2.3% in April, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. While the trend is heading in the right direction, it is still a relatively subdued level of growth, and below what most economists believe is needed to kick-start a major revival in consumer spending.

The expansion in industrial production—5.6% in May compared with a year earlier—was down from April’s 6.7% increase. Fixed-asset investment growth, of which 40% came from property and infrastructure sectors, also decelerated, to 3.5% year-over-year growth in May from 3.6% in April.

Key to the sluggish economic activity data in May—and China’s outlook going forward—is the crisis in the property market, which has proven hard for policymakers to address.

The property rescue package in May included letting local governments buy up unsold homes, removing minimum interest rates on mortgages, and reducing payments for potential home buyers. It also included as its centerpiece a $41 billion so-called re-lending program launched by the People’s Bank of China, which would provide funding to Chinese banks to support home purchases by state-owned firms.

The hope was that by stepping in as a buyer of last resort for millions of properties, the government would manage to mop up unsold housing inventory and persuade wary home buyers to re-enter the market. In turn, Chinese consumers, who have  most of their wealth  tied up in real estate, would feel more confident about spending again, thereby lifting the overall economy.

But the size of the re-lending program wasn’t big enough to convince home buyers, said Larry Hu , chief China economist at Macquarie Group. “Meanwhile, their income outlook also stays weak given the current economic condition,” he said.

For the property market to bottom out and reach a new equilibrium, mortgage rates, which stand at around 3-4% in China, need to be as low as rental yields, which are currently below 2% in major cities, said Zhaopeng Xing, a senior China strategist at ANZ. He said that a large mortgage rate cut will need to happen eventually.

The other key part of China’s push to revive growth revolves around the manufacturing sector, with leaders  funnelling more investment  into factories to boost output and reduce the country’s reliance on foreign suppliers of key technologies.

The result has been a surge in production. But with domestic consumption not strong enough to absorb all those goods, many factories have been forced to cut prices and seek out more overseas buyers.

Data released earlier this month showed that  Chinese exports rose  faster in May than the month before.

However, the export push is  butting into resistance  as governments around the world worry about the impact of cheap Chinese competition on domestic jobs and industries. The European Union last week said it would  impose new import tariffs  on Chinese electric vehicles, describing China’s auto industry as heavily subsidised by the government, to the point where other countries’ automakers can’t fairly compete.

The U.S.  has also hit  Chinese cars and some other products with hefty duties, while countries including Brazil, India and Turkey have opened antidumping investigations into Chinese steel, chemicals and other goods.

Beijing says such moves are protectionist and that its industries compete fairly with global rivals.