The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, June 21, 2004

I've got a good bit of mall rat in my background, which I've noted here before:
As someone who grew up in the '80s, I spent quite a bit of my formative years in malls. Especially in a small town, when there was precious little else to do, the mall was pretty much the only place to be. Parents had little concern over leaving their kids there, because it was perceived to be a safe place (although I dispute that; it's not like that crack mall security inspired tons of confidence). I probably spent more time in the bookstores and movie theaters than anywhere else. Very often, I'd spend entire days at a mall--literally from 9 in the morning until 7 at night. It's a wonder my brain never turned to mush... entirely.
Between that and untold hours of childhood television watching... mush indeed. Of course, I eventually got tired of television, and likewise, I never developed much of a recreational shopping habit.

Still, I maintain a solid interest in the evolution of malls and retail macro-strategies. The direct socio-economic signs of how our consumer-commercial space intersects with our living space says a lot about our society in general.

The movement away from cookie-cutter enclosed malls to open-air collections of standalone stores has been underway for a while now. The next step? Putting upscale (Nordstrom, etc.) and midscale (Target) retail outlets side-by-side in all manner of mall spaces, thus committing what was once an unthinkable shopping juxtaposition.

I don't think it was ever a secret that affluent people regularly slum at discount stores. But in the retail business, you never assume--you commission market research for validation:
"The affluent look for discounts and bargains just like everybody else," said Howard Waddell, executive director of the American Affluence Research Center Inc.

The Miami market research company, which tracks the consumer behavior of the wealthiest 10 percent of the population, asked a random sample of 400 people with a net worth of at least $750,000 where they bought something in the past 90 days.

About half of them bought something at Target, Costco or Best Buy. Home Depot drew 69 percent of the men and 60 percent of the women. Nordstrom was the only department store to crack the top 10 and Neiman Marcus was the only other one in the top 15.

"One definition of convenience says get shoppers in and out of a store fast. But convenience also means parking once and walking to several stores rather than getting in and out of the car repeatedly," said Brett Hutchens, president of Casto Lifestyle Centers Group, a Sarasota developer planning to open a 600,000-square-foot outdoor mall in Lakeland next year that will have a Belk department store, Kohl's, Talbots and a Bed Bath & Beyond.
I'm thinking this is a cyclical trend that turns over every two or three decades. Once another generation has grown up with this open-air model, the next wave will see a retreat back to the enclosed mall. Since that'll be the far-flung future of 2030ish, I hope it'll be underwater, or in space!