Shoppers Just Want to Have Fun This Holiday Season
American shoppers are taking a page from Cyndi Lauper this holiday season.
Dining and entertainment are going to be the twin forces drawing customers out of their homes and back into malls and shopping centers this year, according to JLL’s annual holiday shopping survey released Thursday.
Nine out of 10 respondents to the seasonal survey said they planned to dine out, see a movie, attend a live performance or take part in another holiday-related activity at shopping centers, with 15 percent planning to take their kids to sit on Santa’s lap.
“Experiences are definitely the big theme for this year, way more than last year,” said Keisha Virtue, a researcher at JLL (JLL) who authored the report and helped analyze the 1,095 online responses that came in this year.
Roughly 23 percent of consumers’ overall holiday budget — or $218 per person on average — will go toward entertainment and experiences this year, according to JLL.
The trend is especially true of more affluent shoppers earning more than $150,000. They plan to splurge an average of $460 per person on experiences this year, more than twice the amount a typical shopper will spend.
While malls continue to face a war of attrition, the “Zoomer” generation has been flocking back to them. Gen Z shoppers, who are now reaching their mid-20s are slightly more likely to visit malls this year than older Americans — and they’re heading there to eat.
“The food court has been a real bright spot at malls,” said Alexandra Lange, an architecture critic and the author of “Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall,” published in 2022.
To see the trend playing out in real time, look no further than Hudson Yards, where fast-casual spots like Shake Shack and Pret A Manger are drawing customers up to the fourth floor away from luxury tenants Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co. and the newest marquee brand, Bvlgari, which all lease space on Level 1.
On a recent trip to Hudson Yards, Lange noticed the tables and chairs had been moved into the corridor to create a makeshift food court.
“There was something wrong spatially at Hudson Yards, and it’s interesting seeing them try to fill the holes,” Lange said. “I think they were looking at the whole thing — the office and residential buildings and the mall — to be this one-stop luxury package.”
Instead, everyone was upstairs at lower-cost alternatives Zara and Uniqlo, which is “typical mall behavior,” according to Lange.
That tracks with JLL’s prediction that Gen Zers will spend significantly less overall this year. The majority of them are making less than $50,000 and continuing to feel the strain of inflation.
But no one is writing the eulogy for malls just yet, Virtue said.
“This doesn’t mean that older people aren’t going to the malls,” Virtue said. “Everybody always panics that malls are not going to do well, but this pattern has been going on for quite some time — years and years — and the mall has managed to stay a consistent part of life, particularly Class A malls with fantastic tenants and a mix of entertainment.”
Tourists are less likely to make their way to Flushing, Queens, where Tangram appears to have succeeded in striking the right balance for locals. The new mixed-use development offers shopping, entertainment, and a bustling food court within 275,000 square feet of space.
In fact, shopping experiences have picked up so much steam in the post-pandemic market that JLL’s researchers broke the category out into its own genre in this year’s holiday report. The experiment paid off, Virtue said.
“It really helped to solidify the fact that entertainment is going to be a huge focus this year,” Virtue said.
Lange, for her part, agrees.
“It’s true people won’t go out again for anything, but they will go out for the experience of the ‘Barbie’ movie,” she said. “You’ve got to give people things that are more fun in a group.”
To name a few, she said, “sports entertainment like trampoline parks, fancy gyms with climbing walls.” But pickleball, which has been setting up shop in empty retail spaces across the country, “that’s more of a trend,” Lange said.
Abigail Nehring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.