Mall facts

1. At last count there were 1,175 large regional enclosed malls in the United States. Such malls account for about 14 percent of all U.S. retailing, or about $308 billion in sales.

2. The average mall customer spends 22 seconds looking at a mall map, and often leaves the map baffled.

3. The spaces near mall entrances typically yield lower rents and lower valued items. The shopper, upon entering the mall, is still disoriented and is not yet ready to buy something. That is why hair cutteries are so commonly found near mall entrances.

4. Men are more interested in people watching at malls, whereas women are more interested in shopping. Men also like the non-retail parts of malls, such as food courts, which do not require them to price shop or try on anything.

5. Bookstores have much higher “conversion rates” when they are outside of malls. Bookshops in malls are thought of as places to browse while waiting or marking time, but not places to buy books. Plus it is harder to bundle a mall bookshop with a cafe, which is often the most profitable place in the bookshop. For these reasons, bookshops are leaving malls in droves.

These assessments are from Paco Underhill’s new Call of the Mall. Underhill is arguably the leading expert in the anthropology of shopping, also read his views on selling real estate. This interview presents his views on web retailing.

How it is for me: To enjoy a mall trip, I need one fixed destination, combined with a firm plan to buy something. Add on a free hour to spare, and the desire to eat somewhere in the area or in the mall. The new Chipotle at Tysons Corner Mall is a big draw for me, since they have the freshest Mexican food in my rather sorry neighborhood. I would love a movie theatre at my mall but civilization in Northern Virginia is not yet so advanced. Beyond that, I want enough space in the mall to stretch my legs freely when walking. Given those preconditions, I will buy something for sure, once I have gone. Unlike Alex, I don’t treat sunk costs as sunk. Once I decide to do something I follow through, if only to discipline my choice of original commitments. That is how I make my highly rational, economically calculated, expected utility-maximizing shopping decisions.


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