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Friday, June 8, 2012

MALL MADNESS

- Are they designed for men or women (or both?)

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I went to the local mall recently to look for a gift. It has probably been over ten years since I last visited a mall as I have learned to find merchandise at specialty stores and on the Internet. I generally do not do well with crowds of unthinking clods at the mall. Maybe it is because I suffer from a claustrophobic image of being entrapped by gangs of carnies. Whatever it is, I discovered nothing has really changed in this regard.

The mall I visited apparently underwent some major remodeling and it looked a lot cleaner and sharper than as I remembered it, at least on the inside. The outside was still a death trap for parking. People still circle like barracudas looking for the ideal spot which, at minimum, is at least 50 yards from the front door. Whenever a parking space opens, the race is on to fill it. Regardless what the shop owners in the mall tell you, the front rows of cars closest to the door, are all reserved for the employees who arrive early to claim them. The security guard in the recycled golf cart who circles the parking lot aimlessly is charged with making sure customers are miserable before they enter the mall. As unpleasant as it is outside, it is much nicer inside, thereby encouraging people to stay longer and spend more money.

I suspect malls are more suited for women as evidenced by females outnumbering men by as much as 3:1. Most men do not really want to be there unless they absolutely have to. I believe they are there more to lend moral support to their spouses as opposed to do any substantial shopping. When they become bored, the men are sequestered to a "time out" area where benches and chairs are provided so they can either stare blankly into space or at the skirts walking by.

I have also noticed women tend to dress better going into a mall as opposed to other retail stores. There seems to be more makeup, the hair is better coifed, and they generally look more alluring. This may be caused by many young girls growing up in the mall, with tight fitting and suggestive clothing used to attract the male of the species, all plugged into their cell phones talking incessantly to their best friend who is walking but a few feet away from them. Anthropologists find this fascinating, as do I.

Women probably enjoy malls more than men. After all, they are designed primarily around them. Whereas men tend to become more reclusive in a mall, women flourish. As a friend of mine recently observed, "Women go to the mall to shop, men go there to purchase a specific item; there's a big difference."

Women go to shop for upcoming birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, or to cash in on special discounts and sales, something they are constantly on the prowl for. While women find happiness in stores like Macy's, Lord & Taylor and Dillard's, men find solace in the hardware department at Sears where they check out the latest in ratchet sets and lawn mowers. However, they do try to keep an eye open when they pass the Victoria's Secret store.

There is considerable flash and mirrors in the stores themselves aimed at creating a mystique to trigger the purchasing gene, particularly in the big anchor stores. The flotsam and jetsam is so pervasive, it is difficult to walk around a store, or escape from it for that matter. There's so much overhead, no wonder a simple $5 blouse sells for $90. There isn't anything particularly special about the design or the material used, as much as it is necessary to cover the expenses of the store decor. The retailers could probably save consumers a lot of money with a simpler layout, but that would negate the purchasing gene.

The retail clerks are very cooperative and hospitable, if you can understand the language they are speaking. They spend a lot of time keeping their area neat and clean, but I've learned you do not dare ask for their advice on sizes or color matching. As bad as I am with such estimates, they are worse (and usually more expensive).

There is a wide variety of stores in the mall, all offering products at exorbitant prices. I don't think anybody truly goes there to save a buck. It's intended to be more of a recreational outing like what you experience at an amusement park, where you stay all day.

Food courts have replaced most of the restaurants at malls. The food isn't really any better, or cheaper, but they are designed to encourage the consumer to spend less time eating and more time shopping. According to a 2003 report of Mall Shopping Patterns by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), the average shopper is making fewer visits to the mall, but is staying longer (in excess of 90 minutes), and spending averages over $75 per person, with women easily outspending men.

None of this should come as a surprise as retailers and mall designers have figured us out a long time ago, perhaps too well. The original concept of the mall was to provide consumers with a one-stop destination thereby affording convenience. Now, as the malls have grown to mega proportions, they have replaced convenience with an all-day shopping experience under the guise of entertainment.

I think it will probably be another ten years until I visit the mall again. I'll take the Internet over entertainment any day of the week, plus save a lot of money to boot.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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