Shopping malls in the Philadelphia area are planning major events this holiday season to try to draw shoppers to their doors and blunt the impact of online sales, increasing the number of events to take advantage of the extra shopping weekend created by this year’s early arrival of Thanksgiving.
The National Retail Federation warns that 59 percent of consumers plan to shop online this season—as compared to 57 percent last year—cutting into traffic at brick-and-mortar retailers, with free shipping and in-store pickup great incentives.
Tom Simmons, president of Kimco Realty’s mid-Atlantic region, said the company’s shopping centers schedule lifestyle events to “capitalize on that natural desire we all have to connect and get into the spirit of the holiday season.” At Suburban Square in Ardmore, for example, Kimco is trying to create a multigenerational “pull.”
Among the events the mall has scheduled are surprise shopper days Dec. 9 and 16, which will include Santa and Mrs. Claus strolling around the area. Santa arrives Dec. 2 with crafts for the kids, carolers and treats, and the mall is expecting 500 people to take part in the festivities.
The Shops at Liberty Place also is taking up the challenge. The upscale shopping center in Philadelphia has ditched the typical tree lighting in favor of the first House of Claus Soiree, to be held Dec. 5 Admission is $10, to be donated to the Variety Clubs, and will enable shoppers to enjoy food and beverages, a live band and fashion show. The first 50 through the door will get goodie bags.
Then on Dec. 8, the mall will host an Army-Navy pep rally from noon to 1 p.m., something they didn’t do last year but had done in years past. Marching bands, merchandise and guest speakers will be on hand.
Cherry Hill Mall, just over the state line in New Jersey, started getting shoppers in the holiday mood Nov. 4, with gift wrap and bow demonstrations at the Container Store. The demonstrations will be offered every weekend through Dec. 23. Santa arrived Nov. 6 and held a special breakfast at Maggiano’s Little Italy Nov. 11, followed Nov. 12 by Santa Fest in the mall’s grand court—a day of games, dancing, singing, magic and crafts.
Plymouth Meeting Mall, a half-hour southeast of Philadelphia, scheduled an autograph signing by hockey greats Jeremy Roenick for Nov. 16 and Sean Couturier Dec. 15. The mall also scheduled Sensory Santa events for families with children with autism and other special needs, Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, before the mall opens for business.
Shopping centers are dependent on foot traffic since stores pay not only a fixed monthly rent but also a portion of gross sales. Yet a spokesperson for the International Council of Shopping Centers said the group sees online shopping as a way to augment sales.
“We see online shopping as an opportunity, not a threat,” ICSC spokeswoman Stephanie Cegielski said. “Consumers want options when making a purchase and retailers who utilize omnichannel provide one more way for a consumer to make a purchase.”
A Coldwell Banker Commercial Affiliates survey released earlier this month indicates that although Americans are growing more comfortable with technology and online shopping, 47 percent still prefer doing their shopping in stores, up from 43 percent last year, and local boutiques are their top preference.
Katherine Cullen, NRF director of retail and consumer insight, said communities and malls need to get behind their retailers to draw shoppers to their doors, offering giveaways, refreshments and holiday music as draws.
“Things like that are really creative ways that a community can encourage local shopping,” she said. Think of it as shopping as entertainment.
Whether shoppers go online or into stores, the NRF is expecting a busy holiday season this year, with consumers expected to spend an average $967.13 apiece, up 3.4 percent from last year. NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay attributes the increase to growing consumer confidence and higher incomes. He said retailers have been stocking up in anticipation, especially since there’s an extra shopping weekend this year—five compared with last year’s four.
An NRF survey released at the end of October indicates only 27 percent of consumers are concerned about the economy and will temper their spending accordingly. That’s down from 32 percent last year and the lowest level since the 2009 recession. The NRF forecasts sales nationwide will hit $682 billion, up as much as 4 percent from last year.