Mall Mania No More
Indira Pintak, WEEKENDER | Thu, 12/23/2010 12:31 PM |
Once upon a time I was a shopping sleuth. Don’t call me a shopaholic – I take offense at that term. My love of shopping has never been about impulse buying, and it is certainly no addiction to acquiring new things. Rather, it is an exercise in careful research before making the best purchase decision I feel I can.
It used to be that the best place to carry out this exercise was in a shopping mall. I have fond memories of shopping trips to Pondok Indah Mall, Plaza Indonesia and Pasar Raya back in the late 1980s, and rather less fond memories of traipsing through the alleys and uneven walkways of Blok M market in the 1970s, checking out shops that pale in comparison to the upscale presentation of mall stores today.
Now in my 13th year living in the United States, I have been weaned off the desire to walk the malls. I am not sure whether this is a function of age or the sheer fact that it is quite a hassle to find parking, shop and load up the car all by myself, in addition to the task of wrangling with my then-younger kids in the process. Perhaps it is also because most shopping malls in the States lack the luxury and grandeur of those vertical malls of Asia and many other parts of the world. Compared with the opulence the United Arab Emirates versions, for example, US malls are downright shabby. Consider the Dubai Mall: it houses an aquarium, an ice rink, a cinema complex and a gold souk (market), as well as 1200 stores and 150 dining outlets; there’s nothing in the US like it.
Having resided in four different states during my years in the USA, I’ve found that the average US shopping mall is quite basic compared with those abroad, and mostly filled with chain stores that offer little variety. Almost always they have run-of-the-mill chain stores such as the Gap, Aeropostale, Aldo, Ann Taylor, Eddie Bauer and J Crew, as well as department stores such as Macy’s and Sears, and food courts offering fast, unappetizing food. Very few offer home-grown stores that set them apart from their chain store counterparts. No Chatterbox Café as in Plaza Indonesia, or local fashion designers of the likes of Biyan, Ghea and Sebastian Gunawan.
Not surprisingly, small boutique and specialty tenants often cannot compete with larger retailers who are operationally more efficient and who can afford to occupy larger commercial spaces that mall landlords are unwilling to divide. Even with the downturn in the economy and lower retail rents, it is the larger retailers that are able to negotiate better rental deals with beleaguered mall landlords. Among retailers who are expanding and taking advantage of current market conditions are hhgregg (home appliances and consumer electronics retailer opening 12 new stores) and Kohl’s department store (opening 30 new stores). Not bad considering that personal consumption expenditure is forecast to grow only a modest 2.1 to 2.6 percent for the final quarter of 2010, according to Kurt Salmon Associates.
As for my own personal consumption expenditure, this time of year it is a given that I and many other consumers around the country will spend more than our usual. Traditionally, shopping for the holiday season is marked by Black Friday sales and promotions, where retailers offer time-limited door-busting prices the day after Thanksgiving. I have known a number of rabid shoppers who are very willing to slog through rain, hail and snow to hit their favorite mall at five o’clock in the morning or earlier. Alas, that kind of endeavor has never been my cup of tea.
Holiday season promotions these days start as early as Halloween (October) in many parts of the country and many once-vacant retail spaces are occupied by temporary stores known as “pop-up” stores. They’re not limited to Halloween-themed stores: Other pop-up stores such as Hickory Farms (gourmet food gifts), Holiday Express Toys and Calendar Club cash in on the holiday spending.
These days I prefer to do my shopping for non-perishable goods online, though I also prefer shopping for my wine online as well. I am still a shopping sleuth, just not the real-world variety. Now I prefer the speed of my Internet connection to compare goods, prices (and consumer reviews) over walking miles on end in mall after mall for quality-and-price gathering information. In the States, I am never afraid of missing a good sale, since there are always sales and specials throughout the year both online and among brick-and-mortar stores.
I still miss the bright lights and decorations typical during the holiday season, but that is about all I miss. I do not miss fighting the traffic and crowds, and I definitely do not miss standing in long lines at the cash register. My ideal shopping experience nowadays is to sit in my pajamas with a cup of warm chai, my favorite country music and my laptop and surf through the myriad inventory offered by online retailers. Nothing feels better than completing my holiday shopping for the family without having to lug my purchases and getting sore feet, and parking tickets at the end of the day!