The Joys of Shopping Centers

…and what their relationship is to places of worship.
Written by  John Pitman, CEO of Krunchbox

According to the US Department of Commerce foot traffic data, monthly retail visits were lower in Q1 2023 than in Q1 2022. That is not surprising in the least given the rise in interest rates and general cost of living pressures. Yet recent personal experience of visiting shopping centres in both Canada and the US would appear to indicate that crowds and volume of foot traffic are healthy. The ‘frustration in trying to find a parking spot at the weekend’ index shows no sign of abating! 

Humans are social animals; we like hanging out with our tribe, be that at the weekend football game, a favourite bar or restaurant, and yes, our local shopping centre.  

Over the COVID years, online sales substituted for in person shopping to varying degrees, according to retail vertical, region, regulations etc. Now that we are free to roam as before, we have flocked back to the malls for some retail therapy. So why is it that consumers like in person shopping? 

Let’s start with the obvious one. Despite the convenience of online shopping, many people still enjoy the physical experience of browsing through stores, trying on clothes, and interacting with products before making a purchase. Shopping centres provide a sensory experience that cannot be replicated online, allowing consumers to see, touch, and feel the products they are interested in. 

Tribal interaction. Shopping centres offer a social aspect that online shopping lacks. People may visit shopping centres to meet friends, spend time with family, or simply enjoy the atmosphere. After prolonged periods of social distancing and limited social interactions during the pandemic, people are eager to reconnect and engage in shared experiences. Teenagers are once again meeting and hanging out at centres because there is entertainment to be had without necessarily having to spend money. 

Entertainment and experiences. Many shopping centres have evolved into more than just retail spaces. They often incorporate entertainment options such as movie theatres, restaurants, cafes, arcades, ice skating rinks, and even indoor theme parks. These additional attractions make shopping centres a destination for leisure and entertainment, attracting consumers who seek a complete experience beyond just shopping. 

On the practical side – immediate gratification. While online shopping provides the convenience of doorstep delivery, it can also involve delays in shipping and returns. Shopping centres allow consumers to have immediate access to the products they want, allowing for instant gratification. This is particularly appealing when it comes to items like footwear and clothing, where fit and style preferences can be better assessed in person. 

Due diligence. For higher value items we like to do our homework before committing. Some purchases require personalized assistance or expertise. Shopping centres usually provide access to specialty stores with knowledgeable staff who can provide guidance and recommendations based on individual needs. Consumers may prefer the face-to-face interactions and the opportunity to seek expert advice in the centre, even if they subsequently purchase the product on line.  

We all love a bargain. Shopping centres often host sales events, promotions, and discounts, which can be appealing to cost-conscious consumers. Bargain hunters may be attracted to the potential deals and savings available in physical stores. The use of proximity marketing to offer personalized promotions only available in store can also provide additional incentives. 

Then there is the issue of trust and credibility. While e-commerce has become increasingly popular, some consumers still have concerns about the authenticity, quality, or security of products purchased online. It takes one bad experience with an online purchase to taint our view of the channel. Shopping centres offer a level of trust and credibility, as consumers can physically verify the quality and authenticity of products before making a purchase, as well as the opportunity to exchange or return items there and then. 

Love them or hate them, malls are for many people an integral part of urban living, and they still offer a lot more than simply a destination to buy something.  

Their origins lie in the market stalls that grew around the town place of worship on a Sunday. More than simply a place to buy and sell produce or to barter, the markets were a place to meet, to catch up on news and to exchange gossip. As such they were a critical component in human interaction and connectivity – something that endures to this day. 

About the Author:

John Pitman, CEO of Krunchbox | Linkedin - Free social media icons

a global retail data analytics provider