The Demise of America’s Malls

Then and Now

The Demise of America’s Malls

From Hanging Out to Hung Out to Dry. Malls are struggling to find their way back into the social and economic heart of consumers. How can they revitalize?

When I was a kid, we’d meet up at the mall to hang out with friends and strut our stuff. Plus, we couldn’t text or Snapchat our buddies to stay up-to-date on the latest happenings; we had to catch up in person (unless our home phone cord stretched far enough to be out of earshot of our nosey parents). And teens weren’t the only ones for whom malls had a distinct purpose in the 80s and 90s: they provided a convenient, one-stop-shop location for everyday goods and services.

But all that is changing. The Daily News recently covered the demise of the U.S. shopping mall, citing a report from Credit Suisse, which says that “if the current pace of retail bankruptcies, store closures and increased e-commerce buying continues, as many as 25 percent of the nation’s malls will close by 2022.”

Have you been in a traditional mall lately? For the most part, they are marked by empty corridors, defunct storefronts and silent cash registers. In the face of online shopping giants like Amazon and eBay, malls have become “inconvenient.” Today’s shopper is fickle and demanding, with little to no brand loyalty. They want what they can easily find online: wide open choices, a user-driven experience, access to endless amounts of product information and recommendations, and, of course, the best price. Walking from store to store inside a mall does not come close to providing this level of convenience.

So what exactly is driving this eventual downfall of the mall model? The group that is driving this shift are the digital natives, or those aged up to age 34 or so. We call them promiscuous shoppers. They are open and uninhibited with their attitudes toward products and brands in a way that previous generations have not been. They also reject the brand loyalty patterns of their elders – buying something new, unknown, or unexpected is a sign of a smart, unique buyer. This attitude is changing the path-to-purchase landscape and changing the shopping experience forever.

At our market research firm, we specialize in shopper journey research. We’ve uncovered several interesting findings through our exploration of shopping data that can help us understand this shift. Specifically:

  • The age of information is driving purchase anxiety and promiscuity: shoppers need more information before pulling the trigger on a purchase. This usually means online and WOM research, not walking around a mall.
  • They are looking for value and a truly customer-centric shopping experience. Malls do not provide this competitive edge over online shopping.
  • The new shopper is unpredictable, forcing loyalty to the back burner. They won’t go to a mall to shop at The Gap every time they need an outfit. Their habits are not tied to one brand or brick-and-mortar store, but to the world of choices they can find digitally.

So, if you’re going to miss the nostalgic feeling you get when entering a mall, I recommend you go visit one soon… or pop in a VHS of Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Author bio: With more than twenty years experience, Rebecca Brooks believes market research is failing the brands they support by relying on outdated models. She is a proud partner and co-founder of Alter Agents (, a full service market research company redefining research in the age of the promiscuous shopper.

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