05/22/2013 | by
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In the aftermath of the Great Recession, Glimcher Realty Trust (NYSE: GRT) Chairman and CEO Michael Glimcher and his staff looked at their portfolio of shopping malls and saw a change in the way their customers experienced their malls.

During the recession, Glimcher theorized that consumers started looking at malls as more than just a place to shop. They took on more of the character of community event centers and social gathering spots.

The Glimcher Realty team decided to test their intuition by conducting research on shoppers’ behavior. The result, the Glimcher Retail Monitor, was released this month, and it confirmed their suspicions.

“We found that the affinity for the physical shopping center has a lot to do with being social and wanting to experience it with others, whether it’s trying on makeup, having salad and a glass of wine with your girlfriends or enjoying a movie,” Glimcher said.

The New Mall Experience

Among the survey’s key findings, the data indicated that 80 percent of U.S. shoppers prefer to go shopping with a companion.

“Consumers are using the mall as a bonding experience,” said Marianne Bickle, professor at the University of South Carolina, which helped Glimcher Realty conduct the survey. “In the 1950s everyone knew everyone in the neighborhoods. Shopping malls are our new neighborhood experience.”

Experiences that range from dining at sit-down restaurants to participating in community events all help to drive consumers to the mall versus shopping alone online, according to the survey. Farmers’ markets and live music were among the top events that shoppers said they would like to see on a more regular basis at the mall. Fifty-two percent of people surveyed said they would be drawn to the mall more frequently if stores offered more experiences such classes and workshops.

Bickle noted that hosting community events has the added benefit of bringing more foot traffic to malls’ stores.

Glimcher Realty is adapting to the changes in consumer preferences. In response to its finding that consumers would prefer more high-quality food choices in malls, for example, Glimcher said his company has started to add more full-service dining options in its properties. Additionally, he said the company is seeking out more services to include in its malls, such as grooming and fitness centers.

Glimcher said one of the challenges of trying to make such changes is that finding the right tenants for a particular market can be difficult. Additionally, some of the newer, smaller tenants can’t afford to pay the same rental rates as larger national chains.

The survey was conducted in April 2013 by C&T Marketing Group and included answers from 3,334 adults over the age of 18.