Anjee Solanki, national director of retail services at Colliers USA, said there's another reason why retailers should act prudently before caving to investor demand to close a large number of stores at once. Namely, to avoid creating a reputation among consumers that its business is flailing.
"If you start closing stores very quickly, what does that do from a perception standpoint?" she said. "Certainly you'll start to see closures occur quickly, but I don't think you want to force that. … When you have those conversations you're doing that retailer a disservice."
Solanki added that while she expects to see more store closings in 2016, they are of a healthier nature than last year, when retailers including Deb Shops and RadioShack closed hundreds or thousands of stores as part of their bankruptcy proceedings. Instead, she views many of the recent announcements as a means for retailers to get their square footage more in line with consumer demand, and in better locations.
She pointed to one of Macy's locations as an example, saying it's in a mall that should be reconfigured into an entirely new retail concept. She added that in many cases, stores that are being closed are in areas where the population has shifted into a nearby city, where the government has been investing money toward the area's growth. Burden added that much of the industry's consolidation has occurred as a result of mergers or acquisitions.
Still, questions remain as to whether retailers are divesting their underperforming properties quickly enough. Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, said that while the decision by Macy's to hire Eastdil Secured to pursue potential real estate maneuvers, as well as search for a senior executive to manage real estate activities, it should have made those moves a year ago. In that vein, Evercore ISI analyst Omar Saad told investors in November that the timing for potential deals could take the retailer about a year.
"There are huge opportunities there, they've just got to get it ramped up," Johnson said.
Another option for retailers looking to trim their square footage is to sublease their space to a competitor, thereby transitioning them into the landlord role. But Burden cautioned that this results in retailers supplementing a portion of the rent roughly three-quarters of the time. Likewise, they can slice the store in half and bring in another tenant, but that means paying to put up a wall, separating the electricity and heating components and other logistical challenges.
Instead, Burden said over time, he expects retailers will start to close larger locations and move into smaller spaces. Along those lines, Target has been shuttering its big-box locations in favor of its smaller-format stores in places like New York City and Chicago. Likewise, Kohl's plans to test five to 10 smaller-format stores this year.
"It used to be let's just roll out 100 stores of this size in every market. Now the conversation has changed," Solanki said. "The retailer is customizing their concept for the market."