Mall Owners Use Open-Air Pop-Ups to Win Back Shoppers

August 27, 2020

Mall owners are bringing retailers into pop-up, open-air outdoor areas, in hopes that shoppers will return.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the temporary closures of indoor malls across the country this spring. Now, as many malls reopen while the coronavirus outbreak continues on, owners are looking for ways to make customers more comfortable. 

“With many consumers worried about returning to enclosed retail malls, extending the retail offer outdoors is a logical way of keeping business going and giving tenants an alternative option to serve customers,” Neil Saunders, managing director at research firm GlobalData Retail, told the National Real Estate Investor.

Westfield Valley Fair's response in Santa Clara, Calif., has been seen as an example for other malls to follow. The mall, owned by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, created an Open Air Market in July. The mall had closed in March when the pandemic first hit the U.S., reopened in June for nearly 30 days, and then was closed again by the state due to an uptick in cases. That's when they decided to make the mall into an open-air market in front of the mall’s Bloomingdale’s store, with red and white pop-up tents where retailers can display merchandise. Participating retailers include a variety of chains, from Athleta and Talbots to Kay Jewelers, Pottery Barn, and more. The mall also has food truck vendors available at the open-air market. 

“Just the elevation of the visual presentation and the size of the footprint has really magnified,” Sue Newsom, senior general manager at Westfield Valley Fair, told National Real Estate Investor.

Westfield Valley Fair is also offering a new program, The Cabanas at Westfield Valley Fair, where its high-end brands, like Tiffany & Co. and Versace, offer appointments with customers in private cabanas on the mall’s outdoor terrace.

Other malls are following suit with their own versions of pop-up open-air markets, but some analysts say this sales approach may be a temporary Band-aid. Once the weather cools in many parts of the country, malls may struggle to keep the open-air shops open. Also, pop-up shops don’t tend to bring in as much money as a full mall experience, Saunders says.

Many malls with large indoor enclosed places are trying to find ways to adopt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some malls have started offering curbside pick-ups or even turned their parking lots into drive-in movie theaters to increase foot traffic.

The need to adopt is dire for many mall retailers. The spread of COVID-19 could prompt an estimated one-third of U.S. malls to close or be reconfigured by 2021, retail consultant Jan Kniffen predicted in June to the National Real Estate Investor.