“The Retail Apocalypse” is a great catch phrase that grabs attention. News outlets make sensational claims that Amazon is destroying the retail sector and that, across the board, retail real estate is in big trouble. These claims are overstated and misguided. The retail industry isn’t dying, but rather evolving. The following article will explore three topics: retail real estate that is in trouble, retail real estate that is well positioned and the perceived 400-pound gorilla in the room, Amazon.
Enclosed malls are facing the most trouble right now. While foot traffic in enclosed malls continues to decline1, the significant operating expenses from expansive common areas remain. Assets in secondary and tertiary markets are particularly at risk. Businesses most affected by the retail apocalypse are retail clothing and electronic stores in enclosed malls. We will see malls close soon. However, many malls will be reinvented with new and innovative uses. Across the country we are already seeing “dead malls” get new life with unique uses such as: satellite college campuses, sports complexes, multifamily, etc. The Google Glass headquarters occupies a 500,000-square foot office that was previously an abandoned mall in Mountain View, California. Locally, Mylan Pharmaceuticals was recently approved for a 24,000-square foot lab in the former JC Penny at the Mountaineer Mall. Enclosed malls are in the most trouble, but have significant opportunity for reinvention.
Retail sectors that remain healthy include: single tenant properties (free standing businesses such as banks, fast food, convenience store, etc), neighborhood retail (including grocery stores), power centers (developments with home improvement/ Walmart as anchors), and strip centers. Think about some of your local retail strip centers. How many of the tenants are truly threatened by Amazon? Many, if not all, of the tenants are service providers: medical, financial, insurance, restaurant, cell phone store, hair salon, etc. Even if the few retail users within a strip center leave, conversion to the next use is fairly easy.
Amazon and the growth of online shopping have certainly affected the retail landscape and hurt some sectors. However, only 8.5% of retail sales take place online. Amazon only accounts for 1.5% of the retail sales in the US2. In fact, most retail sales still occur in brick and mortar stores. A bigger factor than Amazon is changing consumer preferences. In 2016, for the first time ever Americans spent more eating out and at bars than on groceries. Americans’, especially millennials, crave experiences over material goods. Millennials spend less on clothing and more on dining, concerts, and travel. Naturally, clothing retailers are going to feel the pain of these changing consumer demands.
Creative destruction is a perpetual force. Just as Netflix destroyed Blockbuster, we are seeing some retail industries being destroyed. However, the decline in one industry creates opportunity and space for new businesses concepts to satisfy new consumer needs. Visionary developers will find solutions based on what the market demands.