Leslie Wright/The Arizona Republic—Brittany and Vince Lopez’s devotion to Tanger Outlets Westgate has never waned, even a year after the mall’s grand opening at Loop 101 and Glendale Avenue.
Often, the Goodyear couple drive up just to walk Tanger’s “racetrack.” The oval pedestrian way winds past 80 stores, with featured spots for Coach, Michael Kors and Polo Ralph Lauren.
Brittany Lopez, 23, makes multiple trips a week. Sometimes she buys clothes, but often she just luxuriates in having a new place to browse in the shopping-starved West Valley.
“I just like that it’s open,” she said, taking her 8-month-old daughter from her husband. “It’s so free and fresh.”
When it opened last November, Tanger was a new competitor for a handful of major shopping centers on the west side of metro Phoenix.
Those centers, including Arrowhead Towne Center at 75th Avenue and Bell Road and Outlets at Anthem off Interstate 17, felt the pressure, executives say. However, they have recovered, largely because the region serves a wide market that reaches from Wickenburg to Buckeye and benefits from strong traffic from winter tourists.
As the lucrative Christmas shopping season picks up steam, the Valley’s new outlet malls are well-positioned to lure the price-conscious shopper, experts said.
Tanger has had a strong first year, said Eric Victor, the mall’s assistant general manager.
“The Phoenix metro market was underserved by the outlet industry a year ago,” Victor said.
Tanger’s corporate executives had predicted that the mall would generate 5 million to 6 million shoppers during the first year.
The Greensboro, N.C.-based company would not release its actual customer traffic numbers, but Victor said the company is “happy with our first year in the market” and plans to build on its clientele.
Tanger owns 43 outlet malls in the U.S. and Canada.
For iStar Financial Inc., which owns the Westgate Entertainment District across the street, Tanger is a slam dunk for the restaurants, bars and shops near Jobing.com Arena and University of Phoenix Stadium.
Long dependent on seasonal ice hockey and football crowds, Westgate has found a source of long-sought stability. Westgate owners sought out Tanger and formed a joint partnership with the national chain.
“It’s overwhelmingly positive,” said Jeff Teetsel, Westgate’s development manager. “Tanger brings an anchor that is active 12 months a year, seven days a week and provides steady traffic to complement the peak (sports) traffic.”
This year, many Westgate bars and restaurants are offering discounts to Black Friday shoppers who show a Tanger Outlets receipt, a new strategy designed to link the centers more closely. During Tanger’s first year, Westgate spent more than $1 million on sidewalks, shuttles, signage and other strategies to draw outlet shoppers to the entertainment district.
As many as a few hundred people cross 95th Avenue each day to go to Westgate bars and restaurants, Teetsel said.
Although Tanger is not the sole draw to Westgate, Teetsel said that the outlet center was a factor in filling nine vacant storefronts over the past year. It’s also helped raise the gross sales of Entertainment District merchants by about 10 percent, on average, compared with last year.
On the rebound
Meanwhile, officials at shopping centers near Tanger say sales have begun to stabilize.
One year after Tanger opened, Outlets at Anthem is happy overall annual customer traffic is flat compared with last year. After Outlets at Anthem initially lost customers to the new competition, some eventually wandered back.
“It was not as low as we anticipated,” said Outlets at Anthem spokeswoman Sallyann Martinez, who described the initial percentage loss of customers as in the low double-digits.
“You go from being the largest outlet mall in the Valley — all by yourself — and add another outlet mall, and there will be an impact.”
But that dip appears to have leveled out, said Martinez, who added that some of Anthem’s standard frills may have played a factor.
Anthem offers free VIP cards, free wheelchairs and strollers. It also touts a full food court. Tanger has few eateries on site for shoppers but directs customers to nearby Westgate.
Also, Anthem customers do not have to fight sports fans for parking spaces, Martinez said.
“We try and do a lot of small things,” Martinez said. “That’s one of the things we truly believe in.”
Arrowhead Towne Center, a traditional shopping mall in Glendale, also felt the pinch after Tanger opened. Tanger is just a 10-minute drive south on the Loop 101 from Arrowhead.
Arrowhead executives have been tracking Tanger’s impact throughout the year, especially stores that have locations at both sites, said Anne Duskin, the mall’s marketing director.
It appears many shoppers remained loyal to Arrowhead, said Senior Manager Maria Halstead.
The mall has seen an increase in sales from this time last year, Halstead said. She declined to provide exact figures.
“We are not worried about diluting our market now,” Duskin said. “They offer a totally different shopping experience.”
A mixed season
All of the malls are preparing for Black Friday. Experts have given mixed predictions because of the government shutdown in October, the impact of the budget cuts known as sequestration and consumers’ worries about about the fragile economy.
In an annual survey, shoppers told the National Retail Federation that they plan to spend about $738 this year, down from the $752 they spent last year. Yet, analysts with the group still predict that spending will be up by nearly 4 percent over 2012 by the time it is all said and done.
Given lingering concerns about the economy, some analysts believe that outlets such as Tanger, Outlets at Anthem and Phoenix Premium Outlets near Chandler will do well this season.
“I think they will have a very good season,” said Phoenix-based retail consultant Jeff Green.
“First of all, they are new. Second, they are very price sensitive and so is the consumer. I think (the season) will be flat overall, but I think the outlets will do quite good here in Phoenix,” Green said.
At Tanger, the chain relies strongly on social media to attract younger shoppers. During the holidays, the mall will continue to reach out through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram and the Tanger smartphone app to give customers discounts and coupons.
Avondale resident Jasen Smithe, 25, who frequently drives his girlfriend to the outlets, said Tanger broke him of his online shopping habit.
“I’ve cut way back on that,” he said. “I like the discounts here.”