By  on January 2, 2018

If 2017 was retail’s annus horribilis, it may be shopping centers' turn this year.“While retail closures peaked in 2017, shopping centers will hit a peak in 2018 to 2019,” predicted Garrick Brown, vice president and Americas head of retail research at Cushman & Wakefield. “In the very immediate term, we’ll have 200 to 250 fewer malls. Class A centers will have total dominance of the marketplace.”Greg Portell, lead partner in A.T. Kearney's retail practice, estimated that among the 1,200 shopping centers in the U.S., one-third are antiquated and need to be repurposed or completely reimagined; one-third are in good locations, but need tweaks, and the last third were built for the modern shopper within the last decade, and are safeguarded from the pressures 2018 will bestow.The continued migration of consumer spending to the Internet, Amazon’s online hegemony, and Millennials’ comparative indifference toward material goods contributed to bankruptcies and a retail reckoning that triggered a tsunami of store closures. Deborah Weinswig, managing director of Fung Global Retail & Technology, on Friday said store closure announcements in 2017 increased 229 percent to 6,985 units. Brown sees store closings ramping up again this year, but said they likely won’t reach 2017 levels. “The Bon-Ton is looking at restructuring,” he said. “That doesn’t mean bankruptcy is imminent, but it usually does. I don’t know if anyone’s going to bail them out. J. Crew has a lot of leveraged buyout debt. If they happened to go into bankruptcy, a knight would probably save them. Vendors and factors are driving the closures.”Since retail’s implosion in 2017, which caused brands such as BCBG Max Azria, The Limited, Wet Seal, Rue 21, True Religion and Cornerstone Apparel to disappear from shopping center floors, real estate investment trusts have been wary of apparel concepts. “Traditional apparel retail is where we’re seeing all the fallout,” said Adam Cummings, senior vice president leading CBRE’s national representation of mall retailers. “The lower-tier malls, the C and D centers, had the same retailers for years and they weren’t driving foot traffic.“There’s a movement now by landlords to try to differentiate themselves,” Cummings added. “Overseas brands, homegrown retailers and online players that recognize the importance of a brick-and-mortar presence are opening stores.”Malls' move away from apparel follows demographic trends, said Greg Maloney, JLL's chief executive officer of retail. “The Baby Boomers were a very apparel-driven society,” he said. “Malls’ gross leasable area was 30 percent to 50 percent related to women’s and men’s apparel and accessories. You’re seeing a complete shift in the other direction, to food.“Gen X is at its peak spending power, but it’s the smallest cohort,” Maloney said. “As Millennials marry and have kids you’ll see children’s apparel growing because of the number of children being born. Right now we’re in a lull until 2021. Entertainment and food will dominate until 2021, when Millennial children reach their early teens. Millennials will start to look after themselves and apparel will come back into favor.”There are fashion concepts that continue to expand, however. Duluth Trading Co., which celebrates the rugged style of tradespeople — think flannel shirts, cargo pants and fishermen's sweaters — operates 30 stores and more are on the way. "They plan to open 30 to 40 stores in the next 18 months," Brown said. "Adore Me is looking at stores and doing pop-ups first. There's Marine Layer and Warby Parker. They all were pure-play e-commerce concepts a few years ago. They realize they do better when they have a physical store in conjunction with e-commerce."

Weinswig painted the plight of traditional apparel retailers in stark terms, noting a "sustained splintering of spending away from generalists and middle-ground retailers. With so many choices available to them, shoppers will continue to favor more specialized retailers and channels."

Internet pure plays are expected to capture an additional $43 billion in sales in 2018, and another $8.9 billion will be spent across the niche segments of apparel rental sites, beauty subscription services, online meal kits and apparel resale sites, Weinswig estimated. "In total, that peels an incremental $45 billion away from mainstream U.S. retailers," she said, adding that the developments represent a societal shift away from middle-of-the-road retail behemoths, so don't expect those sales to return.

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