CRE Opinion

Brick And Mortar Retail is Bouncing Back

Online can satisfy our need for things. It can’t satisfy our need for connection – or haircuts!

A classic Joni Mitchell lyric resulted in one of the most repeated quotes of the modern era: You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

When the pandemic curtailed dining and shopping, most of us missed the activities we used to consider everyday and ordinary, from eating inside a restaurant to going to a movie or getting a haircut.

Ian Pierce, Weitzman

In fact, the International Council of Shopping Centers surveyed consumers and asked what they missed most during the depths of the pandemic.  Around 72 percent of the respondents said they most missed going to restaurants and bars; a majority said they missed brick-and-mortar stores for non-essential goods (i.e., not groceries), and more than 40 percent said they missed movie theaters.

We’ve all heard the joke, how can I miss you if you don’t go away?

Well, when a lot of brick-and-mortar retail seemed off limits during the pandemic, the absence definitely made people appreciate it more.

Sure, people clicked ‘buy’ more often, increasing online sales in 2020.

But online shopping and boxes on the doorstep could not alleviate the isolating nature of the pandemic.

And, as evidenced by a lot of folks with ‘COVID hair,’ online couldn’t deliver a haircut to your door.

As vaccinations increase this year, and new cases fall dramatically, customer traffic is showing big increases.

For example, OpenTable said that Mother’s Day restaurant reservations were up 64 percent compared to pre-pandemic 2019. After more than a year of restrictions, families wanted to celebrate.

We see the same traffic gains for our Dallas-Fort Worth shopping centers, where Placer.ai’s numbers tell the story. (Placer.ai is a provider of location analytics and foot traffic data utilized by Weitzman to understand shopper dynamics.)

We compared monthly customer visits at three centers we manage, West Plano Village, Firewheel Market in Garland, and Shops of Southlake.

In April 2020, West Plano Village reported 13,100 visits, jumping to 42,800 by May as Texas emerged from the March 2020 shutdown. A year later, in April 2021, the visitor count jumped to 78,100.

In April 2020, Firewheel Market reported 20,200 visits and 75,100 visits in May 2020. In April 2021, that visitor total jumped to 141,900.

In April 2020, Shops of Southlake reported 90,600 visits, driven by its Central Market anchor, and in May 2020, it reported 166,800 visits.

In April 2021, that visitor total jumped to 234,300!

National surveys predicted this return to brick-and-mortar visitors. In the midst of the pandemic last year, the International Council of Shopping Centers asked consumers what they planned to do more of once things returned to normal.

A full 30 percent said they would visit eating or drinking establishments more, 28 percent said they would frequent physical stores more, 24 percent said they would visit malls more, and 20 percent said they would increase their gym visits.

All of these numbers, as good as they are, pre-date the Center for Disease Control’s May 13 “unmasking day” announcement, stating that vaccinated people could safely return to indoor activities without masks or social distancing.

With a new sense of freedom and safety, we expect to see customers return to brick-and-mortar stores with a newfound appreciation for experiences they once took for granted.

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