4 big takeaways from our Retail Outlook report

Shoppers’ return to stores boosts spending and demand for retail space

March 02, 2022
  • Keisha Virtue

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Our latest Retail Outlook report revealed that retail real estate saw measurable growth in 2021. As COVID restrictions eased and employment grew, consumers headed back to stores, ready to spend.

» Download the full United States Retail Outlook Q4 2021

Retail sales bounced back 

In 2020 we saw a significant dip in sales at discretionary retailers like apparel and department stores and restaurants. As the economy started to open and consumers trickled back to stores and restaurants, sales numbers have seen measurable gains. Total retail and food service sales hit $7.4 trillion in 2021, surging 19.3% from 2020. 

The biggest year-over-year increase in sales came from apparel stores, where sales jumped nearly 50%. As consumers start going out more and returning to work, they are buying new, dressier clothing. I personally can attest to this. After moving back to a very well-retailed suburban area after years in a very small town, I found the need to buy going-out clothes not just for myself but for my daughter. A trip to Nordstrom helped get us spiffy for Kaili’s first time seeing the Nutcracker.    

Despite our desire for jeans, the athleisure moment is by no means over. Athleisure companies like Athleta, Fabletics and new clicks-to-bricks sensation, Vuori, are all actively opening new locations.  Food & beverage places also saw sales surge by 32.1%, as consumers head back to restaurants and bars.


Apparel and F&B see tremendous recovery in 2021 sales

Far fewer retailers went bankrupt

2021 bankruptcies significantly below 2020’s

The number of retailers filing for bankruptcy is the lowest it’s been in five years. After 70 major retailers declared bankruptcy in 2020, the number of filings dropped 77% to only 16 in 2021.. This is the lowest level of bankruptcy filings we’ve clocked since 2012. With fewer retailers declaring bankruptcy, the number of closures fell from 13,992 in 2020 to 3,509 in 2021. More retailers are now focusing on expanding their store count. Discount and dollar stores continue to take the lead, but we continue to see store growth from fitness centers, groceries and restaurants.

Retail stores shrink

The average footprint for signed leases is currently below 3,100 square feet – the lowest level in a decade. The demand for smaller stores is being driven by the resurgence in restaurants. Quick-service restaurants (QSRs) like Taco Bell, KFC and Starbucks are all actively expanding. Mobile retailers like AT&T and T-Mobile are also growing their store count. Some large retailers like Burlington and Target continue to focus on opening stores with smaller footprints. Malls have seen average store size decline the most since 2019, falling 12.5% to 5,459 square feet. Malls saw a healthy number of smaller tenants move in during the fourth quarter, particularly QSR’s, apparel stores and salons/spas.

Malls have seen the greatest decline of store size since 2019 of 12.5%


Malls continue to beef up tenant roster with experiential tenants


  • Simon is partnering with ghost kitchen startup, Kitchen United, to offer “Grab, Go, Eat” – a service where Simon shoppers at select centers can order from multiple restaurants in a single-transaction for in-mall pickup or home delivery. Customers can have the food delivered to any store within the center or pick up food from on-site lockers.
  • Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara, CA, is adding electric car charging stations where drivers can order meals from the mall’s restaurants for curbside pickup while they charge their cars.
  • Mall of America is adding Climbzone - a family entertainment center whose climbing walls are designed to look like art pieces (e.g., spider webs, Mount Rushmore) that can be safely scaled by young children and adults.


United States Retail Outlook Q4 2021



Contact Keisha Virtue

Senior Analyst of Research - Retail