Crime is impacting stores and retail venues at record high levels, forcing trade organizations to pressure lawmakers to find solutions to curb the violence; mall owners and retailers to heighten security measures, and consumers to think twice before venturing outside their homes.
Traffic levels at shopping centers have generally rebounded in the aftermath of the pandemic, as people have been demonstrating an eagerness to get out for shopping as well as for dining and other experiences. However, a tragedy of the kind that occurred Saturday at the Allen Premium Outlets in Allen, Texas, where a lone gunman killed eight people, including two sisters who were in grade school, and injured at least seven others could discourage some people from going out and shift some business online. The gunman was killed by an Allen police officer responding to an unrelated call. The gunman was armed with an AR-15 style rifle and reportedly had ties to a right-wing extremist organization.
According to Placer.ai, which tracks traffic at shopping centers, from March to April this year, visits to outlet malls grew nearly 3 percent. Visits to open-air lifestyle centers grew 0.3 percent, though at indoor malls, traffic fell 1.3 percent.
Shopping centers are considered “soft targets,” meaning they’re hard to safeguard or relatively vulnerable to acts of violence and terrorism. According to the government, investigations into domestic acts of terrorism are up 357 percent over the last decade.
“On behalf of NRF staff, our members and leadership, we are horrified by the senseless loss of life on Saturday in Allen, Texas, at a retail outlet mall. We strongly encourage policymakers to find lasting solutions to prevent these needless acts of violence against innocent victims,” David Johnson, vice president of asset protection and retail operations at the National Retail Federation, said Monday in a statement.
“The NRF Loss Prevention community has and continues to work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies to provide active shooter resources for the retail industry,” Johnson wrote. “These resources are frequently reviewed to ensure they maintain the latest guidance with DHS, CISA [Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] and other agencies. We know that our retailers and malls have these guidelines, as well as their own policies, strong partnerships with law enforcement, employee training programs and updated safety protocols. Retailers large and small work every single day to ensure the health and safety of their employees and the customers they serve. It is a shared and urgent priority for the industry and NRF.”
“The Texas incident is absolutely tragic,” said Cory Scott, executive vice president of asset management at Macerich, the real estate investment trust and third largest owner of shopping centers in the U.S. “In terms of our portfolio, every Macerich regional town centers has a robust security program in place, including working closely with our partners in law enforcement to continually evaluate and adjust our plans to address specific issues. We put the safety of our retailers and shoppers at the center of everything we do.”
At H&M, “We are extremely saddened about the events that occurred at the Allen Premium Outlets. All the H&M employees are safe and accounted for, and counseling will be available to anyone that requires,” a spokesperson said. Employees at the H&M store in the outlet center, after hearing gunshots, ushered shoppers into fitting rooms and to a secured backroom. H&M has 496 stores in the U.S. and 3,935 stores globally.
Asked if the fast fashion chain will be building upon its training for store employees in the event of active shooters, the spokesperson said, “We have annual crisis training that incorporates [response] to active shooters. In addition, we also have safety trainings that are taken by our new hires and required annually by all. Included in this is lockdown and evacuation training should we have any incidents in the store.”
At the Beverly Center in Los Angeles, Celia Soudry, marketing and sponsorships director, said safety is the mall’s “top priority” and when asked if last Saturday’s incident will change any training, she replied, “We deploy many tactics, both seen and unseen, to create a secure environment, including taking part in active shooter drills with tenants to prepare for crisis situations. We also work closely with the local police as well as the U.S. Homeland Security to keep the center safe through a variety of means.”
That includes utilizing the federal agency’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign encouraging management and tenants to report to security anything even remotely suspicious. She also said that Beverly Center’s security force is often composed of off-duty policemen.
Retail crime including daytime robberies, assaults and smash-and-grabs has increasingly become more of a concern for many shopping mall developers and major retailers nationwide. Recent gun violence has only ratcheted up the issue.
The threat of active shooters is no longer a yearly practice drill for developers and retailers. Some have invested in more extensive safety protocols, training and guidelines for employees and in some cases armed store security.
In response to the Allen, Texas, shooting, Senate Democratic Caucus Leader Chuck Schumer has called for a meeting with caucus delegates to discuss gun violence and potential gun safety legislation. To date in the U.S., there have been 202 mass shootings in 2023, which are defined as crimes resulting in four or more people getting shot, excluding the gunman, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Retail crimes are getting more brazen, both in the U.S. and in many major cities abroad, which generally are considered safer than American ones. On April 30, three armed robbers held up the Bulgari flagship in Paris and fled on motorbikes with 7 million euros worth of jewelry. In New York City, 13 independent jewelry stores were robbed this year.
Last year in the U.S., more than 600 people were killed and 2,700 injured due to mass shootings. In the NRF’s 2021 Retail Security Survey, 82 percent of the respondents reported that threats of violence in malls or stores were a greater concern than the year before. Understaffed stores, economic issues and the uptick in felonies overall contribute to the concerns.
Rapid response to a mass shooting is increasingly a job requirement for many entry-level workers in shopping malls and outlet centers. With public and employee safety paramount in active shooting situations, staffers are trained to secure themselves, their teams and shoppers within seconds.
“What happened at the Allen Premium Outlets was a tragedy and our thoughts are with the victims and their families,” said Stephanie Cegielski, vice president of research and public relations at ICSC. “We do not advise property owners on security measures as each property is unique and must determine their own needs. That said, we have worked closely with Louisiana State University’s Security Programs Institute to create a program that educates and trains law enforcement and security personnel in a variety of different areas to include active shooter and terrorist situations. Additionally, we are a member of the Loss Prevention Research Council based at the University of Florida which tests safety equipment and provides resources to create safer environments at centers.”