Study: Shopping Malls Losing Customer Appeal

By Heide B. Malhotra
Heide B. Malhotra
Heide B. Malhotra
January 6, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

Holiday shoppers carry bags with their purchases through the Tysons Corner mall in Tysons Corner, Virginia last month.  (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Holiday shoppers carry bags with their purchases through the Tysons Corner mall in Tysons Corner, Virginia last month. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON—American shopping malls are boring and lack diversity, especially during a tough economic environment for the retail industry, reports say.

“Malls can’t be mundane in this economic climate, they need to excite shoppers from the moment they arrive versus make them want to turn around and leave,” said Stephen J. Hoch, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in a recent release.

During the holiday shopping season, many shopping malls across the United States reported lower sales and shorter lines, and fewer salespeople were on hand to assist shoppers.

“If the mall is boring and the infrastructure is not that great, it’s easy to see why people are stepping back and skipping the holiday buying frenzy that is normal for this time of year,” Hoch said in a recent report published by Knowledge @ Wharton (KW), the publishing arm of the Wharton School.

Shopper Surveys

When venturing into a shopping mall, four out of five potential consumers leave the shopping mall unhappy and disgruntled because of one or more problems they encountered, according to a recent survey of 917 people conducted by Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative at and the Verde Group.

Proportional to actual shoppers frequenting malls, the survey sampled twice as many women than men. More than one-third of those surveyed complained that they couldn’t find anything they wanted to purchase before another shopper would beat them to it. Shoppers want diversity, especially in large department stores.

The study also revealed other interesting tidbits about American shopping behavior. People drove an average of 25 miles to their favorite shopping mall and visited an average of five stores on each trip. One-third of the shoppers stayed for about two hours before heading out of the store.

Most of the people claimed that they spent at least $150 in stores and only 10 percent walked out empty-handed.

People between the ages of 25 and 40 spent more time shopping than any other age group. They were also the biggest spender, spending about $188 a visit.

The 18-to-24 year-olds complained of long walks to from the parking lot, mundane products, and a lackluster environment. They also said too many teenagers were lounging around malls.

The Future of Shopping Malls

“Today’s mall shoppers were underwhelmed by the nation’s 1,200 enclosed and open-air lifestyle centers filled with chain stores designed specifically for success in the mall environment,” claims the KW article.

Around 10 percent of all shopping malls could fade away by the time the recession has taken its course, the report’s authors claim.

Mall owners could draw more people to their malls if they act upon customer feedback and the researchers’ suggestions, which might not cost much.

“Malls need to figure out what to do, because there is going to be more and more excess space as chains close down their less profitable outlets. There’s going to be a lot of space that is dark…It can look like an abandoned neighborhood,” Hoch wrote.