The Mall Renaissance: Understanding the Surge in American Mall Visits

January 25, 2024 | Blog | By Lightbox


The American mall is alive and well, as evidenced by Lightbox venues seeing record traffic in 2023, and continuing into January 2024. MotionWorks reports 2.8 billion annual visits to our network of shopping destinations last year which translates to a +47% increase over pre-pandemic 2019 and a +31% increase over 2022. What’s behind this growth? Here are a few key factors, ranging from a shift in consumer behavior to a reimagining of the traditional mall experience.

Gen Z Loves Malls 

Teens have historically been tied to mall culture, and the broader Gen Z is no exception. Contrary to expectations, this tech-savvy generation continues to appreciate the social aspects of malls. For them – 73% of whom have visited the mall at least once in the past month according to a 2023 ICSC study – it’s a hub for shared experiences with friends outside of school and each other’s homes.

Here they’ll hang, grab food, hit the entertainment options, and of course, shop. A ICSC also reports that nearly all (97%) shop in physical stores, with many showing off their purchases in the pervasive “Mall Haul” TikToks or YouTube videos. Malls therefore play an undeniable role in youths’ social lives, both IRL and online.

Suburban Resurgence

Beyond Gen Z, Millennials are playing a pivotal role in the modern mall. The pandemic’s byproduct of remote work flexibility has driven this generation to accelerate its migration to the ‘burbs, with 45% of Millennials expecting to buy a home outside of big cities according to Bank of America. The evolving landscape of American living finds malls (more and more of which have grocery, fitness clubs, upscale dining, and even residential buildings) once again at the heart of communities, serving as one-stop lifestyle destinations.

Physical Retail Expansion

Retailers are adapting to this migration pattern and are following suit, leading to a transformation of the suburban mall’s tenant mix. Millennial e-commerce faves like Mizzen + Main, Everlane and Rothy’s have all opened brick-and-mortar stores in the past year, joining other DTC brands like Warby Parker, Glossier and All Birds, in catering to consumers’ omni-channel approach to shopping. 

Other retailers with once limited locations are going all-in on expansion. Primark only entered the US market in 2015, but it’s aiming for 60 locations by its 10th anniversary. Japanese retailer Uniqlo will add 20 new locations this year alone to double its North American presence.

Shopping as Entertainment

Store openings alone are not enough to attract visits. Businesses are going beyond mere transactions to create fully immersive environments. Now, consumers can ‘Sip & Shop,’ imbibing while they stroll Tysons Corner; get a makeup tutorial at Sephora; custom design kicks with Nike’s interactive displays; or get a refresher on their iPhone shortcuts via a class at the Apple store.

From cutting-edge technology to pop-up events, malls and their retail tenants are creating experiential spaces that engage and captivate visitors, turning shopping into a larger entertainment experience.

A True Entertainment Destination

As engaging as retail stores may be, consumers are also flocking to malls for true entertainment. The infusion of options, such as movie theaters, arcades, and recreational facilities, has transformed malls into comprehensive entertainment centers. Parents now have options beyond animal scooters to delight the kids: Hot Wheel Experience, Candytopia, Bungee Zone, and Museum of Illusions are just a few tenants that are attracting scores of families, among others, for a fun-filled day out.

This is only the beginning of malls’ ongoing evolution, driven by demographic shifts and subsequent demands for new retail and entertainment experiences. As malls continue to adapt and innovate, they are redefining their role in American society and being embraced as vibrant spaces that resonate with the diverse needs of today’s consumers.