I was raised on shopping malls. Living in the surburbs of sprawling metropolitan areas my entire childhood meant being brought along on various trips. My mom would often deposit me at the bookstore, or better yet, the toy store, while she went off and took care of real shopping. During that time, I became familiar with the entire line of Legos, learned the rules of D&D, and played the first 10 minutes of countless video games at demo stations.
Over time, I grew up. A little. I could stand to shop with my mom when she was looking at pants for me (instead of her needing to find me after having scouted out the prices). But now, I rarely go to malls. I’m of the impression that they aren’t quite as important here in the Bay Area as they were back in Katy, Texas, but on the whole, I don’t do much shopping in-person anymore. Part of that is not having a car to get to such places, but even that’s okay, because the internet lets me do all the shopping I want from home.
Apparently I’m not alone, according to this article. Shopping malls, once thought to be the great center of commerce, have been dying around the United States. The article doesn’t focus too much on the reasons why this has been happening, but it does point out 2 main reasons.
First, we apparently rediscovered our roots in stores and restaurants that can be entered from the street. I think there’s something classy in imagining ourselves poking into independent boutiques, looking through storefront windows on a sunny day, and living it up in the city. That’s something I can get behind.
The second reason, however, is the bigger culprit in this situation, and that’s online shopping. It’s so easy. I remember coming down for breakfast on Sunday mornings and seeing my parents trawling over ads, trying to pick out the best deals. My mom had her stacks of coupon clippings that would get sorted into piles. And for important things like big electronics, this could go on for weeks. Now, it’s really tidy. All available products are easily found via search engines. The search engines even compare prices for you, making it easy to find the lowest cost seller. And in moments of confusion, there are many forums and buying guides to help out.
But like a lot of conveniences, there’s something lost, and I think it’s the whole “shopping” thing. I don’t think of myself as much of a shopper, but I do enjoy looking at junk. I’m sure that attitude is frustrating enough to storeowners, but I’ve managed to make things even worse for them as I see things in stores that I later by online because it’s cheaper and gets me out of impulse buys. Yikes.
Somewhere in the economics of purchases, I’ve lost the value of the shopping experience. Sure, I can buy the exact same book on Amazon for $5 cheaper than at Barnes & Noble, but I didn’t spend a half-hour perusing books, walking through ranges of shelves, and discovering new reads online. For myself, the economics as is work out perfectly: I can browse in-person for free and buy for less online. But the physical store deserves the final price I pay for the book for having helped me find it, as well as the retail premium above online prices for the shopping experience.
Honestly, this will be a tough fight. My mom’s coupon-clipping ways and exhaustive (and exhausting) deal-hunting make it hard for me to believe that it’s right to not go for the cheapest option. I’m sure I’ll lose it many times, but at least I’m conscious of it. I won’t suddenly buy more than I do now, but when I see that kitchen gadget in-person, I’ll try not to let myself out of the purchase because I’ll buy it online later.
And I’ll try to do that everywhere. I have enough elitist, yuppie guilt to support the mom & pop shops and small, unique businesses, but I think I need to push to keep it in mind for the big retailers, too. I have too much nostalgia for Fairview Mall, Katy Mills, the Target at I-10 and Fry Road, and other to not give back for some of it.