MAYS LANDING — Indoor malls would not have to worry about their future if all shoppers were like Paige Etsell.

Etsell, 32, recently finished most of her Christmas shopping for her 11-year-old son at the Hot Topic store inside the Hamilton Mall. For her, it would not be the same to just sit at home and order his presents online.

“I like to know the quality if what I am purchasing. I like to know the size,” said Etsell, who drove from Cape May to the mall. “Having a small child, I find walking around the store as being more personal and from the heart when shopping for your children than going online.”

In 2016, consumers were buying more things online than in stores for the first time, according to an annual survey by the analytics firm Comscore and UPS. The total share of mobile spending in retail is steadying increasing each quarter, Comscore also said.

Stephanie Cegielski, vice president of public relations at the International Council of Shopping Centers, based in New York City, said the rise in online shopping does not negate in-person shopping.

“Our recent holiday studies show that the majority of shopping does in fact still happen in-store, and brands with omnichannel strategies benefit,” Cegielski said.

Omnichannel is a type of retail that integrates different methods of shopping available to consumers such as by phone, in a physical store or online.

The conversation is no longer bricks versus clicks, but how the two benefit each other, Cegielski said.

Many times, people will order merchandise online, but if the goods are sent to a store in a mall, there will be no additional shipping costs, or the store will fulfill a request that was ordered online, said Crystal Rodriguez, the Hamilton Mall’s marketing manager.

“The majority of our tenants at the mall offer some form of omnichannel,” Rodriguez said. “Some of our stores are small businesses ... so they will have an online presence where you can review what they have in their store, but you may not be able to buy.”

Stores within the Hamilton Mall and the Cumberland Mall in Vineland are using strategies to drive people who do online shopping through their doors.

Within the Cumberland Mall, American Eagle, Boscov’s, Old Navy, Dick’s Sporting Goods are a few of the stores that are using online shopping as a catalyst to drive in-store buying with such options as picking up online orders, said Lisa Milideo, marketing director for the Cumberland Mall.

“This has become an integral part of a retailer’s success,” Milideo said.

Representatives for Harbor Square at the site of the former Shore Mall in Egg Harbor Township declined to comment on their plans for the property, which features Boscov’s, Golden Corral, the state Department of Motor Vehicles and the Burlington department store, formerly known as Burlington Coat Factory.

The now closed Carrabba’s Italian restaurant may reopen by the end of January as an authentic Indian restaurant, The Nizam’s, as it moves from 6666 E. Black Horse Pike to 6725 E. Black Horse Pike and stays within the township, according to a Nizam’s employee and a sign on the building.

Even though Sears has closed inside of the Hamilton Mall, it is a long-term tenant, has control over the space and will be playing rent to the mall until 2027, Rodriguez said.

“They can either sublet it, or they can buy out their lease and relinquish the space back to us,” Rodriguez said. “They have not informed us about what they are going to do. Obviously, the goal is to fill it as soon as possible.”

Even though the Sears’ store could be chopped into smaller retail spots, that would take a lot more work, Rodriguez said.

The space was built to accommodate an anchor, she said.

In 2017, both Macy’s and JCPenney announced they would be closing stores, but Rodriguez said she has no worries about their stores in her mall.

“We look forward to Macy’s and JCPenney being a part of the Hamilton Mall for many, many years,” Rodriguez said.

Malls have always acted as a critical “third place” — a place where people can congregate and socialize that is neither home nor work, Milideo said.

“Successful shopping centers and malls will continue to provide this and respond to the needs of the community in which they reside,” Milideo said.

The Hamilton Mall is a big part of the community and will continue to be that for many years, Rodriguez said.

For locals to tourists, the mall will continue to be Atlantic and Cape May counties’ destination for shopping and a center for everyone because of all that it has to offer. Hamilton Mall has numerous events throughout the year that not only bring the community together, but that also help the community,” Rodriguez said.

As examples during the holiday season, Rodriguez mentioned the Giving Tree Robins’ Nest Santa’s Workshop by the Atlantic City Rotary Club that provides local kids in need Christmas gifts and the gift wrapping by South Jersey Gilda’s Club and RNS Cancer & Heart Fund.

Outside of the holiday season, the events hosted by the Hamilton Mall include the largest National Night Out in South Jersey and Free Comic Book Day and Halloween Comic Fest in partnership with mall tenant Level Up Entertainment.

Annual signature events in 2018 at the Cumberland Mall that are planned to be repeated include the Mad Hatter Tea Party with the arrival of the Easter Bunny and Bunny photos, Superhero Saturday, mall-wide trick or treating activities during Trunk or Treat and Santa Fest, Milideo said.

The mall also makes available a loyalty program for its regular customers.

“Retail experiences and mall offerings continue to evolve, so too, is Cumberland Mall,” Milideo said.

Staff Writer

Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

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