Has e-commerce killed the shopping mall?

Moderated by Rachel King | January 14, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (23:00 PST)

Summary: Does the increase in online shopping spell doom for this brick-and-mortar institution?

Jason Perlow

Jason Perlow




Denise Amrich

Denise Amrich

Best Argument: No


Audience Favored: Yes (58%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Death march

Last year, in a previous Great Debate, I proposed that online sales within 10 years would devastate the balance of brick and mortar retail, citing the huge increase in online sales during the 2011 holiday season as a catalyst for continuing growth.

The holiday shopping season of 2012 proved to be even more of a watershed event than 2011. A report released by ComScore at the end of December last year said that holiday shoppers spent nearly $38.7 billion online between November 1 and December 21 of 2012, a 16 percent increase over the same time period one year ago.

Not surprisingly, all of this is happening during a very fragile economy, because shoppers are much more easily able to find deals online than in brick and mortar, as well as take advantage of free shipping, thus eliminating the crowding and the hassle of dealing with large retail establishments.

And what is more of a hassle than going to a modern shopping mall, which are located in extremely dense urban and suburban areas of the country, where there are also increasingly stressed and overworked Americans who are overextended on hours trying to make ends meet and to care for their families?

Why should they take up their valuable time sitting in traffic to get to the malls and to shop, when they could simply be doing it from the comfort of their own homes, or during lunch breaks on their own smartphones and tablet devices?

An entire website has now been devoted to "Dead Malls", ones which started out losing major anchor department stores, and then primary retail spaces until even the secondary stores could not survive on their own.

Recent figures indicate that retail space in over 200 shopping malls across the United States are suffering 35 percent vacancy rates or higher. Not surprisingly, the largest retailers in the country are also the ones with the largest amount of mall exposure as well, and are seeing their sales decline significantly as a result of this overall slowdown in mall shopping.

What's killing the malls? It's a combination of a weak economy, the increasing consumer preference for shopping online, and the high cost to retailers of having to rent retail space in a large shopping mall with ever declining foot traffic.

This is a trend that I personally don't see reversing anytime soon.

If the mall is dead, its customers sure don't know it

When I was on my way to the strip mall I frequent, at close to store closing time on Black Friday, I passed the local mega mall. There was hardly an open parking space to be seen!

It may be true that sometimes, for certain types of things (electronics come to mind), shopping can be better online. Certain types of shops have been hit hard by new shopping trends. Business models may need to change. Different types of stores may have a better chance for success. But the mall will never die.

Where else can I meet friend for lunch and a movie, try on shoes at three different stores, drop off my best loved pair at the shoemaker for some TLC, hit the salon for a mani-pedi, and grab a smoothie on the way home -- all in one shot and without struggling with more than one door?

All you need is a decent anchor store or two, and smaller shops, specialty shops, even the proverbial mom and pop shop, have a chance to win customers they might otherwise have never seen.

The mall will never die.


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  • Big NO !

    The shopping mall has become kinda Disneyland for the poor ones and the young generation.
    But families do benefit as well from "the mall". It gives them a location to spend their spare time and have some fun. "The mall" is far from being a location just to buy goods. It provides entertainment to all its visitors in a way internet-shopping could never do.

    "The mall" has become a social necessity used by many for exactly that reason. Therefore it will stay for quite a while though it has to adept to customers/visitor desires.
    Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided

      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • Caps lock works.

        Caps lock works.


        Not everybody does. Some love it. Hey, guess what? We're not made on assembly lines. We all have our own tastes and preferences. It's a part of being human.
        Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
    • adept vs adapt

      I would say that the mall has its purpose, however her ein OKC the strip mall is booming, while the enclosed ones are losing out. We have lost three in the metro over the last several years. Even th enew Outlet mall is a hybrid--covered but not an indoor mall, basically a strip mall with stores facing each other over a walkway with parking around it similar to an enclosed mall.
      The mall merchants need to be more adept at adapting to the customer. At least one of the enclosed malls that closed, is repurposed as an office building, another may go that way as well.
      Crossroads Mall in South OKC is at the intersectionof two Interste highways and is hard to get in and out of, the neighborhood is more towards people with less money to spend, etc. the anchor stores moved out or went out of business (Montgomery Ward, for instance). JC Penny moved out of the mall to a suburban strip mall. I suspect that some of the reasons are the cost of the enclosed mall vs the cost of the strip mall location.
      The biggest convenience of the enclosed mall is the entertainment, food, and the fact that you are indoors. Unfortunately for most stores they don't cater to my needs as a 6'7" 300 lb man, You can't be BIG AND TALL, just big OR tall. I have to go online to buy my clothes as they rarely are available in store, even if it is the same store, it doesn't help the brick and mortar store, just the company.
      Even non-mall stores such as CompUSA go out of business and become online only (now just Tiger Direct (after being bought by them). Montgomery Ward, and other stores have become online only, still only a shell of what they used to be.
      Electronics, tools, etc. can be bought online, but clothing is harder, just because it says it is the right size doesn't mean it will fit. (side subject, I guess) We need all types as someone else said, they cater to different mind sets.
      Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
  • Some impact perhaps; killed, no

    Online shopping has been around for many years now. Malls have been hit hard primarily due to the economy recently, not so much from online shopping taking over. Sure, there's been some increase in online shopping. But people visit malls to touch and feel the product, maybe get some food and drink while they're wandering around, to see others, and to be seen. My 20+ year old kids go because their friends go. They might not even intend to buy anything initially but just to look. Then they end up buying.
    Reply 1 Vote I'm for No
    • and before the on-line shopping

      there were catalogs and HSN.
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • Yes..but

        Catalogs and HSN/QVC were around "before" the Internet. However, shipping was a bigger issue. These organizations were "too small" to create the effect on USPS, FedEx, and UPS that Internet sales has generated. Plus, many of the catalog stores and HSN/QVC didn't have the brick and mortar presence that many of the "new" online stores do. And often carried product lines that you couldn't "test" before you bought. Therefore you had no idea what the quality was until you received it.

        I would venture to say the only brick and mortar stores that will survive will be the ones that have shifted to an online presence.
        Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
  • Malls are not dead

    There are going to be less malls, and their heyday is over, but they will not go away. It is much like tablets will not kill the PC, but they will certainly cut into that market.
    Reply 1 Vote I'm for No
    • pc's and malls will go down

      Phones are getting more and more powerful, I hardly ever use a pc now, do just about everything on my phone, just bought a new note2 and now I'm doing even more on the phone, of course I don't have a choice cos my pc is broken but I'm in no hurry to replace it. Malls will die because foot traffic is not the same as sales, of course once 3d imaging becomes the norm even the foot traffic will disappear as folk won't be going to the mall to compare the feel of products and then going home to buy online, at the and of the day it about overheads and choice and online has lower overheads and much more choice
      richard in norway
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • The malls will change back to the days of strip shopping centers

    Although the gigantic malls will offer and experience more than just shopping (Mall of America) the local large malls will change. They will go back to strip shopping centers. Places where you park the car closest to the store you need, go into the store buy the item and leave. There are things such as shoes, clothing and some computer related items that people will still want to see in person.

    The internet is part of the death of the middle class. When you can have one aggregate doing the job that once tool 100 people, it will have an effect on labor capital. You can move an entire plant to China and pay people minimal wages to produce an often cheaper quality but greater quantity. This all benefits a certain sector and is probably the reason Rolls Royce is doing a banner business. I have no idea what the future holds for jobs but there will be less of them.
    Reply 3 Votes I'm Undecided