Shopping malls will empty out if coronavirus worsens in US: survey

American shoppers will avoid malls like the plague if the coronavirus crisis worsens in the US, a new survey shows.

Some 58 percent of consumers surveyed this week said they will likely avoid public spaces or travel if the outbreak spreads further here, according to a Friday report from Coresight Research. Malls and shopping centers emerged as the most common places that such consumers would avoid, with nearly three quarters saying they would stay away from them if the epidemic grows more dire, the survey found.

“If the situation worsens (or even the perception of the situation), US consumers could dramatically change habits to reduce the risk of infection, and this could hit retailers hard,” Coresight wrote in its report.

Other “discretionary spending destinations” such as restaurants and movie theaters could also take a hit if the virus threat grows, the retail and technology research firm said.

Coronavirus fears have already begun to take hold among American consumers as cases of the disease rise outside its point of origin in China, according to the survey of 1,934 US adults conducted Tuesday and Wednesday.

Some 27.5 percent of consumers say they’re limiting trips to public places, avoiding them altogether or changing travel arrangements, the findings show. Shopping centers and malls are the third-most commonly avoided destinations among those people, falling behind public transportation and international travel.

Shopping malls have reportedly faced similar struggles as the broader retail industry in recent years such as falling foot traffic and a shift to online shopping. A 2017 Credit Suisse report projected that as many as 25 percent of all US malls would close within five years, according to CNN.

Shares of large mall owners tumbled Friday amid a coronavirus-fueled panic that had Wall Street headed for its worst week since 2008. Simon Property Group shares dropped as much as 4.6 percent to a low of $119.91, while Taubman Centers — which Simon is buying — lost as much as 1.9 percent to trade at a low of $52.00.

The International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group, is reportedly following the feds’ recommendations for how to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

“At this time ICSC, as well as our members, are following the guidance of the CDC and will implement changes as recommended,” a spokeswoman for the group told CNBC.

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