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March 10, 2006

Malls

I loathe malls. They exhaust me. I'm not a low-energy guy, but an hour or so in my local commercial wonderland and I'm ready to hit up some hibernation. Which is why I was interested to hear a friend tell me that it was all intentional. Apparently, the demon familiars designing these things have laid hands on some data connecting blink rates to shopping behavior: as it turns out, the sleepier you get, the more likely you are to simply spring for some big ticket items and hightail it home to bed. So the lights, the layout, the sounds, the scent -- it's all designed to drain the life force right out of you.

The reason aisles, for instance, are widest in a mall's center is that the wider the aisle, the slower the walk. The slower the walk, the sleepier the pedestrian. The sleepier the pedestrian, the more likely s/he is to interrupt their slumber-inducing stroll and make a purchase. Discount racks, conversely, are often in the back of the store, with narrower aisles. Apparently, a shopper who gets brushed in the back has a 70 percent chance of turning from what they were looking at. Smaller aisles means more jostling, more jostling means fewer discount items sold.

So what do you guys think? All this stuff makes sense, but it doesn't quite jibe with the malls/megastores I know of, all of which tend to place discount items towards the front (loss leaders) and lack a defined middle. I would, however, be surprised if I wasn't being lulled into a sleepy daze somehow and for some purpose, so anyone know of relevant research or publications on this stuff?

March 10, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

I gave up shopping as recreation years ago. Now I absolutely loathe it. I think it is the sensory overload and way too many choices. I leave stores wishing I had an isolation chamber to crawl in for a few hours.

One reason I hate Wal-Mart is the shopping experience there. They are always moving things around so you have to explore to find what you're looking for. If you find a brand of something you like, they will never carry it again.

My own pet theory is that there are way too many MBA newbies in corporate marketing trying to justify their salaries or maybe just their degrees and making the rest of us miserable in the process.

...

Posted by: Emma Zahn | Mar 10, 2006 12:12:42 PM

My brother's fiancee manages a big department store in the UK, and she has lots of stories of how stores use layout and that general sort of psychology to get people to spend more. I'll ask her if she knows of any solid data.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Mar 10, 2006 12:39:10 PM

The worst part of the mall is the food court. At least ones in Wisconsin. Every Wisconsin food court I've visited plays hair-metal at top volume. Once, I got hungry, and I ate an Arby's sandwich to the tune of the Cult's "Fire Woman." That was a terrible idea. I don't think I've been to a food court since ...

Posted by: Pepper | Mar 10, 2006 12:48:58 PM

I think it's bunk. And I say that as a soon-to-be MBA who has worked in retail and at malls.

Increasing the number of items sold per transaction is a huge part of creating a profitable retail store. So sleepy people looking to make one buy and get out would not be the most profitable customers, and thus it would be in nobody's interest to encourage that.

Retailers do want to sell those discounted items, by the way. That's why they discount -- to get that inventory off their books. Stuff that just sits there gathering dust doesn't make a profit. The reason the stuff is in the back is because they want you to buy both new and sale merchandise, and you're more likely to do that if you have to walk past the new stuff to get to the sale racks.

Posted by: fiat lux | Mar 10, 2006 12:49:50 PM

what i want to know is, why, when you walk into a multi-gender clothing store, are the women's clothes always on the right and the men's always on the left?

Posted by: cookie | Mar 10, 2006 1:34:42 PM

I agree it's bunk.

Keep in mind that malls are not built by retailers, but by real estate moguls, who want to make as much money as possible per square foot.

If you want to read some fascinating books on the subject, Paco Underhill is a "retail anthropologist" who studies shoppers' behavior to make recommendations to retailers for organizing their stores. He wrote Why we buy and The Call of the mall (which looks specifically at shopping malls, from their location in seas of concrete, through matters like why most malls have an even number of floors, to why there aren't coat-lockers or shopping carts one can take from store to store (again, back to the designed by real estate rather than retailer))

Posted by: Lis Riba | Mar 10, 2006 1:39:28 PM

That doesn't make any sense; no way would a mall want to get you OUT of there as quickly as possible. They're better off making it a kind of place people will want to stay at for hours on end.

Posted by: Dadahead | Mar 10, 2006 1:39:39 PM

Having had the experience of actually working at a Walmart, I can tell you that the moving of everything is by nefarious design: you can't find what you're looking for, so you search some more, and end up buying other things while searching for the item you wanted. It was on a schedule too. Every two weeks the entire grocery section got redone and things got swapped around. Made it really hard to help people find things (which is what made my day).

I think the sleep theory isn't a very good one. Most stores try to get you to stay longer, not shorter: thus the reason in every supermarket, the bread and milk are nearly on opposite sides of the store. Just doesn't make sense to make people sleepy.

But boy howdy, do malls drain my energy too.

Posted by: NoVA liberal | Mar 10, 2006 2:03:39 PM

I don't know the rightness or wrongness of it, but I think the trick is not to be persuaded by ANY marketing tactics. I am hard to convince. I watch NO commericials, don't look at ads, don't read store signs. When I go shopping, I know precisely the item(s) I'm going to buy. Otherwise, I won't go there.

Posted by: Adrock | Mar 10, 2006 3:41:32 PM

I don't think any of this affects shopping patterns at all. At least not mine.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go buy some Purex detergent, my socks need washing.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 10, 2006 4:12:52 PM

Ezra, was this the Pentagon City Mall? If so I heartily disagree- I absolutely hate shopping but man I like the layout of that one... the escalators on each end, big circular wraparound floors, fifty feet away from my apartment... okay, so that one's a special unique bonus, but still.

Posted by: August J. Pollak | Mar 10, 2006 7:16:01 PM

A couple of thoughts:

  1. There's a difference between low-priced/high-margin stuff and "discount" stuff. Pretty much anything near the cash-registers is high-profit stuff.

  2. I know men like to brag about hating shopping, but don't pay attention to what we say -- watch what we do: in a computer store. In a Home Depot. In a large book store (especially one with lots of CDs).

I'm just saying.

Posted by: Ara Rubyan | Mar 11, 2006 9:31:10 AM

i do my splurging on amazon, in the gold box, thank you very much.

Posted by: almostinfamous | Mar 11, 2006 12:10:33 PM

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Posted by: peterwei | Oct 22, 2007 7:12:14 AM

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