Sozzi said that after a profitable but below-expectations holiday season, the retail industry will face its second "tsunami of store closures across the U.S.," only a few years after what he called the "fire sale holiday season of 2008."
During the recession, the number of shopping center vacancies rose by 5.5 percentage points to 11 percent, according to ICSC data, and has since recovered only 2.1 percentage points.
In addition to J.C. Penney—which announced last week that it will close 33 stores—there are about a dozen retailers that still have too many stores, Sozzi said. Among them: American Eagle, which needs to move some of its aerie lingerie locations into its main stores; Aéropostale, which is on track to close 175 stores over the next few years; and Wal-Mart, which has about 100 stores in the U.S. producing same-store sales declines deeper than 3 percent, Sozzi said.
(Read more: JC Penney closing 33 stores, slashing 2,000 jobs)
As for Penney's, Wells Fargo analyst Paul Lejuez said that its store closures are a step in the right direction, but they barely scratch the surface of how many are needed.
"With mall traffic trends very challenging and J.C. Penney facing its own significant company-specific issues, we do not believe a 1,000-plus store fleet is appropriate," Lejuez said in a research note. "In our view, the company needs to close several hundred stores to operate more efficiently, but that is not easy to accomplish overnight."
Retailers need a new approach
That's not to say there aren't a number of young retailers who still have plenty of room to build their store base, Lejuez said. Among them: Lululemon and the fashion-forward Michael Kors and Vince brands, which both recently went public. Kors, which increased its store base by nearly 100 stores last year, is on track to open 50 U.S. stores in 2014.
In a separate note, Lejuez said that the ideal way for young brands to build a retail business today is very different than it was 20 years ago. These days, he said, it makes more sense for a retailer to have half the number of stores they once thought appropriate, and instead concentrate on a small store network and e-commerce business. This will take time to accomplish, however, as the vast majority of store locations are leased and not owned, making them harder to unload, he said.
"There is often a mismatch between the number of stores retailers operate today compared to how many they would choose to operate if they had to do it all over again," Lejuez said.
(Read more: Without rebirth, malls face extinction: Developer)
But it's not just the number of stores that are shrinking—it's also their size, said David Birnbrey, chairman of retail real estate advisory group The Shopping Center Group. As fewer shoppers buy items at the physical store, retailers don't require the same inventory levels to be kept in an attached storage room.