This is the time of year that retailers want you thinking about Santa Claus and presents, but two recent mall shootings may be fresh on consumers' minds as the critical holiday season kicks off.
On Monday, a gunman opened fire at New Jersey's Garden State Plaza. The suspected shooter killed himself before anyone else was hurt. That incident, coupled with the September terrorist attacks in Nairobi that left more than 60 people dead, may have stirred up questions among shoppers about how safe it is to head to a shopping center.
People are taking fewer trips to the mall as it is. Overall retail traffic has been trending lower over the past decade, as more shoppers go online. Analytics firm ShopperTrak predicts retail traffic will decline 1.4 percent this holiday, though founder Bill Martin said it's important to note that the number of unique shoppers has remained relatively flat over the past 14 months.
Retailers will need to perform the delicate task of calming concerns without fanning any fears.
Shopping centers take a number of measures to prevent and handle attacks, according to Malachy Kavanagh, vice president of communications and external relations at the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Major centers practice evacuation and training drills throughout the year, and perform shooter training drills with police officers, Kavanagh said.
Local police have become more active in creating informational materials, including videos and posters. They also work with private security teams and often have centers located within the malls. Police presence is increased during the holidays, he said.
Further, camera systems have been updated and in many cases let police remotely access security feeds and get live pictures from the scene of a crisis. The largest malls often spend more than $2 million a year on security, Kavanagh said.
"It's a constant evolution as the situation dictates, and you have to train for the inevitable," he said.
Kavanagh said retailers' overall training has been evolving in the past 12 years. After Sept. 11, ICSC spent $2 million to develop a training course on how to respond to a terrorist attack.
The National Retail Federation has also taken steps to promote safety within the industry. In 2011 the group produced an information packet with the Department of Homeland Security detailing emergency response protocols and guidelines when dealing with an active shooter.
Information includes the profile of a typical shooter, basic guidelines and considerations, and how retailers can prepare. It also features a risk assessment form to identify the best response plan for a particular retailer, and whether it is better to evacuate or seek shelter in a certain situation.