It’s widely believed that online shopping poses the greatest threat to New Jersey’s malls. Retail forecaster Forrester predicts that Web sales will constitute 11 percent of total U.S. retail this year, up from 8 percent in 2013. That doesn’t seem like a huge chunk, so why the dire predictions for malls?
James W. Hughes, dean emeritus of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and coauthor of New Jersey’s Postsuburban Economy, traces part of the problem to the transformation of department stores, which have long served malls as anchors—large stores expected to draw lots of shoppers. “Fifty years ago they were multifunctional,” Hughes says of department stores. “They sold household goods, furniture, apparel. Over time, though, they narrowed themselves to mostly apparel—and apparel is the largest online sector in absolute terms.”