Malls try to increase security without scaring off consumers

Monday, October 22, 2001

Urban Retail Properties Co. has doubled the number of security guards in some of its 63 shopping malls. Rouse Co. is adding patrols to back hallways and storage areas in its 61 shopping centers.

And Simon Property Group, which operates the Mall of America, has increased its security staffing, restricted parking in certain areas and stepped up monitoring of delivery vehicles.

Amid the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and fears of more to come on U.S. soil, mall owners across the country are working to improve security at their shopping centers. But many say they're taking care that the changes make shoppers feel safer, not alarmed, as the holiday season approaches.

"There's a difference between having an armed camp and having a secure environment," said Cindy Bohde, executive vice president of Chicago-based Urban Retail Properties, which said it might increase security further if needed for the holidays.

"It is a definite balance. When you go to the airport, and you see guards, that is great. But shopping should be an escape experience," said Timothy Keiningham, a senior vice president at Marketing Metrix, a global research and consulting firm. "You don't want to heighten customers' awareness that they may be vulnerable."

Less nervous in malls

Toy retailers have to be extra careful not to frighten children, Keiningham said.

KB Toys has added some extra security measures, which it declined to dislose. It is working with various malls, spokesman John Riley said.

"What we want to do is create a comfortable but safe environment for our customers," Riley said.

However, FAO Schwarz said it is not increasing security at its stores.

Consumers appear to be less nervous in malls than in other public places like airplanes, train stations or skyscrapers, according to C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, a research firm based in Charleston, S.C.

A poll conducted by Beemer this past week of 500 people nationwide revealed that only 11 percent were worried about their own security; the remainder were not. And many of those worried people said still went to shopping malls this past week.

In fact, after customers stayed away from malls immediately following the assaults in New York and Washington, D.C., traffic rebounded to pre-attack levels, according to the RCT National Retail Index. They were undeterred by concerns about more terrorist attacks after the United States began air strikes in Afghanistan.

Clearly, consumers want to know they'll be safe in malls. But Steve Nevill, a principal of Kurt Salmon Associates, a retail consulting firm, said the smart centers are the ones not having uniformed guards with visible weapons or big concrete barricades. He believes centers should have plainclothes personnel instead, and have barricades, adorned with plants, that blend with the center's exterior.

Business as usual

Nevill said stores still need to continue doing big events for Halloween, and during the holiday season.

Mall executives said business continues as usual, although at least two mall operators -- Urban Retail Properties and Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Taubman Centers, which operates 31 malls in 13 states -- decided to scrap trick or treating events.

"We are truly looking at it as a public service," said Urban Retail Properties' Bohde. "Parents have enough concerns about having their kids taking candy from strangers."

Indianapolis-based Simon said it will host trick or treating events as scheduled for Halloween at Mall of America and other centers.

However, extra security will be provided, she said.

Meanwhile, David Tripp, a spokesman for Columbia, Md.-based Rouse Co., said its malls will host Halloween festivities, but will re-evaluate whether it needs to further step up security after Oct. 31.

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