Jeff Jordan–The Death of the American Shopping Mall

America has too many malls.

I’ve recently blogged that many traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are being threatened with “economic destruction” by their advantaged online competition. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, anchorwoman Nicole Lapin asked about the implications of this dynamic on retail real estate. I said I hadn’t studied it, but I thought the ramifications would be very big and very negative (I believe the phrase “apocalyptic” was used).

I’ve since had the opportunity to spend some time looking at this issue, and I believe we’re seeing clear signs that the e-commerce revolution is seriously impacting commercial real estate. Online retailers are relentlessly gaining share in many retail categories, and offline players are fighting for progressively smaller pieces of the retail pie. A number of physical retailers have already succumbed to online competition including Circuit City, Borders, CompUSA, Tower Records and Blockbuster…..

Read it all.


Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Personal Finance

7 comments on “Jeff Jordan–The Death of the American Shopping Mall

  1. Teatime2 says:

    Yes, the American concept of “the mall” should be dead. It’s an artificial, indoor behemoth that caters to young people who want to pay $25 for plain T-shirts that have a company’s name written in large letters on the chest.

    Does it care about making the shopping experience relevant or pleasant for older folks and families? No, it never has. Since I became disabled, I had to stop going to the mall, for the most part. I can’t walk around it and lug packages. Unlike Kmart, the mall has no electric scooter carts for disabled customers. So if there’s something I need at a mall store, I park near that store’s entrance and only go there.

    But when I was in England, I went to the mall in my friends’ town all of the time because it wasn’t like an American mall. It was PRACTICAL, imagine that. For one, it was located downtown near the High Street and it had parts that were airy and open. The whole thing was made of glass and somehow felt like a part or extension of the downtown area rather than separate from it.

    One entrance opened onto a pedestrian-only street that had a post office, bank, old-fashioned sweet shop with large glass containers of every confection imaginable. You could fill a bag of assorted treats for a pound. But the best part was the produce market, with a traditional barker calling out specials and enticing people to come and buy his fresh vegetables. They were of good quality and priced well.

    Inside the mall was a Sainsbury’s grocery store, a Pound Land, and Boots chemist shop, plus a mix of the typical shops like shoe stores, GAP-type stores, and some very affordable department stores that offered fantastic prices on clothing, shoes, housewares, etc. I found great deals there and had to figure out how I was going to bring everything home with the one checked bag allowance, grrr.

    In short, the mall had something for everyone, was attached to the traditional town shopping district and was accessible. You could go there and get everything done – post office, grocery, bank, pharmacy, clothing, household items, gifts, you name it — and not pay a premium for the goods and convenience. In fact, many price points were accommodated. With Sainsbury’s and the produce market, you could buy local and regional, too.

    Here in the States, the primary “one-stop shopping” place is Walmart. It’s depressingly drab and dreary and its goods are mostly made in China. It hits the lowest common denominator.

    I’m not a retail analyst but it seems to me that the “mall on the High Street” concept like this could be a winner here if it was done the same way. It apparently works in Europe (I shopped at one in France, too). The places are bustling with shoppers, as opposed to people just hanging out there. It’s because they have grocery stores and other practical shops in them, not just clothing stores for teens.

    Our mall here instituted a “no unaccompanied minors” policy to combat teen hi-jinx and loitering. They wouldn’t have as much of a problem if they simply had stores that drew in a mixed clientele.

  2. Cennydd13 says:

    Small towns such as Los Banos, California, where my wife and I live, very often don’t have what most people call a “mall,” but we do have “big box” stores, which for the most part fill that need, and for us, it means that not only do we have a Target Store, but [i]IN[/i] that store, we have a Starbucks Coffee concession, which usually draws a good crowd, and we spend time with friends there…..some of whom we’ve met while shopping there. Do we need a large mall here? No, we don’t. Could we use a place like Barnes & Noble? Sure, who couldn’t?

  3. Cennydd13 says:

    As a matter of fact, we have [i]three[/i] Starbucks in town.

  4. Teatime2 says:

    I’m not a fan of the “big box.” For the size of that Target, you could fit all sorts of shops and services that are local and affordable, plus improve the shopping experience and environment. That’s my point.

    And you say your town is small so why would anyone cheer for three Starbucks? That’s what Starbucks does to make sure there’s no local competition/local coffee houses. When they came to my former town, they quickly put in five stores and drove the two local places out of business. I think it stinks.

    But, then again, I don’t understand the American obsession with chains. Or concrete block, windowless spaces. So often I hear people describe towns in terms of what chain stores are there, not about REAL quality of life. I’m not entirely sure what that says about us but I don’t think it’s good.

  5. Catholic Mom says:

    When I was a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, we had a “mall” similar to what TeaTime2 described. It had all kinds of fascinating warren-like little stores that you could buy all kinds of interesting things in. It also had a post office and a bank. In those days, I spent a lot of time at the post office and the bank and a lot of time at the mall deciding what to spend my (extremely small) discretionary cash on.

    Now I spend zero time at the post office or the bank (I don’t even have a bank — I handle all my finances through Vanguard and only through the internet and the mail — and I only need to go to the post office very now and then and when I do I can almost always use their automated services in the lobby). I have to buy a lot of non-discretionary stuff like food and clothing and a zillion other things for the family. My goal is to do it as quickly and painlessly as possible. That means I want to go to as few places as possible and spend as little time there as possible. Target meets my needs for about 75% of what I buy and it’s pleasant and clean. I spend no time exploring interesting little stores at the mall and buying interesting little things. I go into Target. I get some bread, some milk, maybe a pair of jeans for the kids, some laundry detergent, and some shampoo. Done.

    My kids are springboard divers and I just noticed yesterday that my younger son’s speedo is about 1 week away from totally disolving. (A lot of time in chlorine does that pretty fast to just about anything, but especially synthetics.) Just went to, found one his size on sale for $15 (they usually run about $35) entered some info, pressed send, and I’m back surfing the net for the 15 minutes I’ve got remaining in the evening. I’m not going to spend an hour buying it at Dicks Sporing Goods when I just did it in 1.5 minutes. Likewise 90% of the Christmas presents I bought this year.

    I don’t drink coffee and I hate sitting in trendy cafes. We do have a Barnes and Noble and when I don’t order through Amazon (like because I need something immediately) I go there. I can park my car 10 feet from the door, go in, find what I want, pay, and depart.

    Yes, I remember Christmas shopping in Ann Arbor. I would take whatever little money I had and go down to the mall and shop for hours until I found a few “perfect” presents for just the money I had. It really was delightful. But that was in another life in another galaxy far far away.

  6. Katherine says:

    Lots of American cities don’t have a High Street to which a mall could be attached. When we show Europeans around our area, they often ask where the city center is and if they can see it. There is one, but people living in suburban areas don’t go there.

  7. Teatime2 says:

    Sorry, I’m just getting back to the posts now! I don’t like the new blog system that only shows a limited number of past threads.

    I’ve long recognized that I really should have been born/live in Europe but the posts make me sad, partly because I don’t think that it would occur to many Americans that being so very busy and insular most of the time is at all problematic.

    I’m not saying that everyone has to share the enjoyment of High Street shopping and sipping wine at an outdoor cafe for hours while watching the world go by. But it is sad that for many Americans, it’s all about doing the shopping and errands with as little human interaction and thought as possible and without leaving the house, if at all possible. The motto, I guess, is we want it cheap, abundant, and now.

    That’s problematic for many reasons. First is that quality takes time. It just does. You don’t get the best and freshest food by throwing stuff into bags as quickly as possible or, worse, paying a company to choose for you and send it. You don’t get the best by “one-stop shopping,” either. You end up settling on many things because you can’t be bothered. Self-service means that you miss out on expert opinions and forging a relationship with people who can best advise and help on projects and problems in the long term.

    Secondly, it’s the steady erosion of “community.” There was pride in service to each other, genuine concern about others outside of your own family, relationships built aside from general commerce. Dismiss it all as “quaint” but there is value in non-familial relationships and in getting to know others outside of one’s own family, culture, neighborhood, and faith tradition. Through such relationships, my parents had friends in the Jewish community and we would often celebrate Passover with them. I treasured that. I wish my son had something similar when he was growing up. I don’t ever want him to build up walls around his immediate family and not share meaningful experiences with dissimilar people in his community.

    I’m also surprised by how willfully blind and naive Americans remain within the “global community.” Because you can order items online, you can also ignore the realities of their production. You can’t examine the quality in your hands, you can’t read the packaging, and you can’t physically compare it to others on adjacent shelves and read their packaging, either. This is allowing sweatshops, labor camps, and child labor to flourish unchecked.

    I make it a point when I shop to check country of origin and read the packaging. If a similar product is made in America, I’ll buy the American-made product. If not, I will buy from our allies. Chinese-made is the last resort. A couple of years ago, I bought a Chinese-made cart at Walmart because I needed it and because there were no other choices in that store. A couple of days later, though, I noticed a nearly identical cart at Kmart that was made in the US. I returned the Chinese cart to Walmart and told them and wrote down why. I also told Kmart why I was buying theirs, which was $2 more than Walmart’s.

    These things matter. We can change things for the better and improve conditions for others if we use our spending power wisely. One purchase and a couple of dollars multiplied by hundreds of millions of people can make a huge difference.

    Malls became the symbol of mindless affluence and greed. They needed to change. But if there’s no downtown and no mall, then where are people gathering? How do strangers meet? How are disparate relationships built? These things are important, especially in an age in which life means so little and brothers who are going blind are able to kill themselves. We have people dying because of isolation and loneliness. We have people dying in their homes who aren’t found for days, weeks, and months because they have no family and no one else cares.

    Is it really OK to believe that as long as one provides for his or her own family then that’s all that’s necessary, and taking time to build relationships with small business owners and service providers in the community isn’t desirable? Perhaps that’s how so many scam artists are able to get a foothold in communities when tragedy strikes. And why so much looting and violence take place.

    I remember being struck by how calm and orderly the lines for supplies were in Japan after the tsunami. People trusted each other and simply waited their turn. Japan also happens to be a place where extended family, community and honor are important.

    I also remember being touched by the broom brigades that formed after the London riots. All sorts of folks showed up to help clean up and to help defend their neighbors’ stores and property. High Street shopping means that you know the business owners because many of them are your neighbors and you have a butcher who knows you have a couple of large dogs and always saves some bones for them. This is community. God help us once it’s gone.