A short post, inspired by the daily sharing of Seth Godin, who was kind enough to spend a half hour with me on the phone this week. (It is a pretty great day when your daughter texts, “Seth Godin made dinner for us; he’s really a great guy and is interested in what you are working on; give him a call”!) Seth is a real “must follow” thought leader.
It’s hot here in San Diego, and I am taking some medication for a week or so that does not like the sun, so my wife suggested I go walk around the mall yesterday. It’s not news that malls are in trouble around the country. A decade or two ago this mall was a place to go because one could visit a number of stores without driving around town. Sure, it was a place for teenagers to hang out, but it was also an efficient consumer experience. There was real value in the expediency of mall shopping.
Here is what I saw yesterday: A lot of people walking, and very few actually shopping. If I had to make a wild guess, I would say that 90%+ of the goods and services sold in this mid-to-upscale mall are discretionary items, not basic needs. Almost everything in the mall can be found somewhere else at a lower price. I imagine one reason, one value, of shopping at these stores is that some consumers walk away just feeling good that they shopped and bought at a cool store with hip ambiance, as opposed to buying the same item at a big box discounter or online.
Is paying more because how or where you shop makes you feel good a sustainable value proposition? I guess for some market segments it is. For many others it is decidedly not, particularly when consumers, despite very good employment numbers, don’t have much or any disposable discretionary income.
Like elsewhere in the country, there are a lot more vacant shops in this mall than there were a year or two ago. I bought one item yesterday at the mall: a $6.99 screen cleaner at Brookstone, which was having a closing-the-store fire sale.
When we look back at this decade, fundamental changes in consumer purchasing trends will be one of the top lessons of history. Education is a consumer-led sector. There is a charter school in the mall; a year or so ago, that spot was probably leased by Victoria’s Secret or The Gap. I would not vouch for the quality of learning taking place in that “school”, but they do have students.