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The Rimrock Mall attempting to adapt as online shopping increases



Billings, Montana – The busiest shopping weekend of the year begins on Black Friday, but with internet sales at an all-time high, malls are changing their tactics to stay competitive. However, after Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping boosts sales at nearby Billings retailers.

“This is the day that all the merchants work all year for to get all the traffic and sales and the goodwill. It’s a fun day in retail, busy and hectic but fun,” said Devin Hartley, senior general manager of Rimrock Mall, on Friday.

As anticipated, the mall was crowded with hundreds of people, but was this weekend unusual for malls like Rimrock in Billings? Josh Rath of Town Square Media published this post earlier this month to highlight what he called a “depressing journey” to Rimrock Mall.

“I’m a big fan of the mall. Always have been, I’ve lived in Montana my entire life. As a kid we came to this mall to shop. I still do. That’s why I wrote this article. We came to the mall to shop, and it was this wasteland of empty storefronts. No one in the mall, and it was sad. Sad to see that these people are just not shopping at the mall,” said Rath.

But while storefront vacancies have increased by 10% across the nation due to the trend of internet shopping, modernretail reports a fall in mall business.

“Any other day of the week, it seems like people just forget about the mall. You don’t hear the advertisements about the mall anymore, you don’t really see it on TV like in years past, so I don’t really know what’s going,” added Rath.

While acknowledging that things have changed, Hartley claims that destination stores still attract traffic.

“GameStop is a destination. Victoria Secret, Bath and Body are destination shops. That’s what makes malls work is the collection of merchants that the customers want to shop,” added Hartley.

But they might not be the only ones who guide malls towards the constantly changing retail future.

“The small storefronts, you walk in, and they don’t have something, you can order it online now. That is the big deal. You want to drive people in, so you need, for lack of a better word, gimmicks. You almost need that gimmick to get people in the door,” Rath added.

Rath lists a few of these, including expanded dining alternatives and interactive retailers to forge fresh connections with customers. It’s the course Hartley claims the mall is trying to take.

“At Rimrock we’re trying to pivot to not be just solely retail but have more of a mix use. Integrated use, lineup of tenants. We have to make the malls fun again. You know back in the ’70s when the malls came out, they were just a fun collection of merchants. It was great. And we just need to be fun again. Have fun things to do,” Hartley said.

The mall is currently negotiating to add a number of new storefronts. Even though that’s a beginning, according to Rath, “still work to be done.”

“I know a lot of malls have died. In the past 10 years, they’ve just shuttered their doors and they’re empty shells and a waste of space. But a lot of malls are re-inventing themselves. You see malls with theme parks, you see malls with the apartment housing in them. If malls innovate instead of just thinking ‘we’re the mall, we’re the best thing the town has.’ They’ll succeed, they will, but just plainly sticking with what has worked over the years is not going to work for the mall,” added Rath.