E-commerce, one of the most-cited culprits behind America’s dying malls, may soon become the mall. Cue The X-Files theme music.
The nation’s leading mall owner, Simon Property Group, is purportedly in talks with Amazon to house fulfillment centers in some of their vacated department store real estate, people familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal. The companies have discussed converting stores previously occupied by J.C. Penny and Sears, once lynchpins of mall traffic that have been bleeding revenue and shuttering stores left and right in recent years, leaving behind massive desolate spaces that never fail to give me the creeps.
And all those big-box spaces gathering cobwebs have apparently left an equally massive hole in Simon’s profits, otherwise I doubt they’d be considering filling their prime retailer real estate with a distribution center. Any tenant is better than no tenant, after all. Even if the rent for warehouse space runs cheaper than it does for department stores, as the Journal notes, at about $10 per square foot compared to between $4 and $19 per square foot depending on the location.
As for Amazon, one of the most expensive and time-consuming legs of the shipping process is that last mile before the package arrives at your door, so the opportunity to set up their fulfillment centers closer to customers is a no-brainer. Curbing last-mile costs was the impetus behind its Delivery Service Partners program, a service that Amazon launched in 2018 to push local deliveries off to independent contractors. Last year, Amazon Logistics, the company’s internal delivery arm, delivered a record 2.5 billion packages in the U.S. alone, per Forbes.
According to the report, these discussions have been underway for months, aka before the coronavirus pandemic exploded in America and Simon’s stocks tanked by nearly 60% since the beginning of the year. It’s unclear exactly how many of the stores inside Simon malls are being considered for the switch to fulfillment centers.
People familiar with the discussions told the Journal that Simon and Amazon are exploring buying out occupied space from retailers in some cases, so it looks like even stores that are still open aren’t safe from the chopping block. Not that either big-box chain seems long for this world: J.C. Penny filed for bankruptcy in May and Sears announced in November plans to shut down another 96 stores, leaving the business with less than 200 locations nationwide.
It’s nice to see that even as an estimated 25 million Americans struggle to meet their basic livings costs after uninsurance benefits drop during a literal pandemic, one of the richest companies in the world is still shoveling industries into its gaping maw, business as usual. First liquor stores, then entire houses, health insurance... the sky’s the limit for Bezos and co.! Or rather, it would be, if Amazon weren’t also journeying into space too.