Soon you might be shopping by appointment at the mall.
One of the biggest retail shopping center owners in the U.S., Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, is preparing to reopen its properties across the country in phases, with a slew of new initiatives to try to help visitors, retailers and restaurant operators feel safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
Visitors to URW's malls will now be able to make an appointment via Westfield's mobile app to visit a specific retailer's store. They also will be able to check how many people are in a mall, at any given time, on the web so that they can plan a trip around less-crowded periods. Shoppers also can use designated curbside parking spots at the mall to pick up online orders or buy a quick bite from an eatery in the food court via DoorDash or Uber Eats.
"Our view is this crisis has not invented anything, but just accelerated us ... five years ahead," URW Chief Marketing Officer Ghadi Hobeika said in an interview.
He added that a lot of the additions URW is making, such as the appointment feature in its app, were "truly inspired by the restaurant industry."
URW owns 90 shopping centers across 12 countries, including Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey, and Westfield Century City in Los Angeles.
As of Thursday, it has five properties back open in Florida. It said it will have nine open in the U.S. by the end of this week.
URW is also plotting a path to help retailers with one of their biggest challenges during this Covid-19 crisis: Gluts of inventory.
The mall owner said it is looking at ways to offer flash deals within its mobile app to help retailers clear through excess merchandise. It also might use the empty spaces at some of its malls to allow brands to open short-term "outlet" shops to clear through inventory at discounted prices.
This would "increase their ability to sell and ... welcome more guests into their stores," Hobeika said about the temporary spaces.
Still, as various malls across the country begin to reopen their doors to the public, it looks like shoppers are not quite ready to return.
At Simon Property Group's Haywood Mall in Greenville, South Carolina, for example, visits during the first 11 days of May were down 63% compared with a year ago, according to research firm Placer.ai, which uses cellphone data to measure consumer foot traffic. The mall reopened on May 1 after being temporarily shut.
However, Placer.ai said visits appear to be growing day by day. It studied 11 malls that have reopened this month, and found "almost every day each of the malls has seen a significant jump in visits compared to the day prior."
Simon, the biggest mall owner in the country, has already reopened about half of its roughly 200 properties.
Macerich said in a press release Tuesday that 20 of its properties, including 11 in Arizona, are now fully reopened. And some, per local mandates, are solely fulfilling curbside orders.
It said it plans to have roughly 35 centers reopened by the end of the month, with the majority open again by mid-June.
"This period of time has shown the importance of brick-and-mortar locations as key sales and profit drivers for most retailers and, as we've now seen in these markets, shoppers also are ready to get back to some of their favorite aspects of life," Macerich Chief Executive Thomas O'Hern said in a statement.
Meantime, URW also said, as it reopens its malls, it will be adding extra hand-washing stations and giving masks to people who request them.
"Based on tenant feedback, there is a need for these services," Hobeika said.