As department store chains cede market share to off-price, fast-fashion and online competitors, they would need to close about 800 locations to achieve their inflation-adjusted sales productivity level of 2006, according to Green Street's 2017 Mall Outlook.
That's the equivalent of all anchor space at 200 malls, or 20 percent of U.S. mall anchor space, according to the report.
Sears and J.C. Penney are the biggest culprits behind the industry's sales productivity gap, Green Street said in its report. Sears needs to close 44 percent of its stores to reach 2006 productivity levels, and Penney's needs to close 32 percent of its locations.
While Sears has been proactive in shuttering unprofitable stores, Penney's has been slower to trim its fleet. The company exited just seven locations last year. It has only four unprofitable stores, according to a separate report by Cowen and Company.
Penney's has not made any formal announcements about how many stores it will close this year. However, at a recent real estate conference in Dallas, CEO Marvin Ellison said the company will soon take action.
A J.C. Penney spokesperson reiterated that the company has not yet announced details regarding potential store closures in 2017.
In his research note, Cowen analyst Oliver Chen agreed that Penney's could eventually cut its fleet by roughly 30 percent, to free up money to invest in its best stores. That would leave it with some 700 locations.
"It is uglier this year," Garrick Brown, vice president of retail research for the Americas at Cushman & Wakefield, recently said about the bricks-and-mortar retail industry. "I expect the closures to be worse, and I expect the malls to be hit more than any other shopping center type."
This isn't the first time Green Street has called out the number of department stores that need to close to restore their previous productivity levels. Last year, the firm also concluded that roughly 800 stores needed to close, though the numbers varied for individual retailers.