Call of the Mall

Paco Underhill, author of the wonderful book ‘Why We Buy. The Science of Shopping’ has followed this up with a review of the shopping experience in America’s Malls.

‘Call Of The Mall’ examines how Americans use the mall (shopping centre), what it means, why it works when it does and why it often doesn’t work at all well.

Paco Underhill is CEO of Envirosell whose studies of consumer behaviour are sought after by leading retailers, manufacturers and distributors around the globe. And now owners, managers and marketing specialists in shopping centres will be studying carefully the observations and conclusions of the man who has been called “the Margaret Mead of shopping”.

Here are some excerpts to give you a taste of this book.

Parking and Entering

Parking and Entering
“The entrance to the parking lot is where the mall really begins. As you approach there is always that moment of anticipation when you see whether the lot is full, empty or somewhere in between. It sets the tone for the day. Enjoy a smooth transition from the highway to the front door and you feel blessed. Hit a snag and you start your shopping trip under a black cloud.”

“We’ve studied many malls where there is one door used by people unfamiliar with the mall. We call it the ‘stranger’ entrance. But it’s usually not the portal of choice for those who know the mall well.”

“When choosing a mall parking spot, you’ve got four priorities to juggle:
1. You want a spot that’s easy and fast to reach when you arrive.
2. You want a spot close to the mall.
3. You want a spot near the entrance that will bring you closest to your first destination inside.
4. You want a spot that’s fast and easy to reach when you leave.”

Parking within 50 feet of your preferred entrance is probably the highest priority of the four, especially when it’s cold, hot or rainy.

“Often when I start a consulting assignment for a retail chain or developer, I’ll drag executives out here. They’re usually puzzled: ‘Wait a sec - the stores are in there!’ But I insist. For all their knowledge and experience, few merchants or managers understand how much of the customer experience takes place in the parking lot. Executives who would be appalled by a lack of regard for shopper comfort within the store don’t give a thought to what happens out here.”

“If the mall devoted more thought to how shoppers experience the place, they’d spend a little money and effort on the parking lot. As soon as you turned in off the road you’d come upon a car greeter – a traffic cop. He’d be the boss, and he would have two or three minimum wage high school kids running around to inform drivers where all the spots are, would keep traffic moving smoothly, and would give shoppers the sense that fairness and order prevail.”

“Doesn’t happen…before Christmas by 10.00am traffic is at a standstill and tempers are flaring. Mall management remains uninvolved. Find your own spot. Fight your own battles, it tells us, then come inside. Mall operators think they control parking lots by installing surveillance cameras. As any police officer will tell you, control is about being visible.”

Rest Rooms
“Your average mall bathroom’s ambience would be dramatically improved if, say, Aveda or The Body Shop furnished the sinks with samples of various sweet smelling goods. Even cosmetics would work here…A woman could test some new soap or moisturiser, want more, and be directed to the store to find it.”

“Has no one ever considered using this as a kind of showroom for the things you sell out there on the floor in the store, twenty five feet away?”

“I’ve suggested to the marketing people at Proctor & Gamble that they sponsor ladies’ rooms in major airports – hire an attendant with a mop and a bucket to keep the place clean, and stock the joint with all their newest products.”

“An entrepreneurial approach to the well-appointed rest room could turn even this place into a profit centre.”

Using Mobile Phones
“In Europe and Japan, cell phones seem to work everywhere, while in the United States (and Australia!) phone users are often driven outside or to odd corners of the mall for good reception. The cell phone as a shopping aid allows contact with your buying adviser.”

“We have started to track the phone conversations that happen in stores and their apparent effect on buying decisions. It’s remarkable how predictably the conversations begin: ‘Honey, I’m here at the mall, what did you say you wanted?”

Jurek’s View
‘Call Of The Mall’ follows on from the fascinating, entertaining and useful retail research book, “Why We Buy. The Science of Shopping” which is a must read for everyone involved with retail.

It is also easy to read, though it has far more of Paco Underhill’s opinions and far less actual research to back up his conclusions. It examines how Americans use the mall, what it means, why it works when it does and why it often doesn’t work at all well.

I have the feeling with this book that Paco Underhill has been reading too much of his publicity and now believes he is a witty, entertaining writer. So, in some ways it’s a bit of a let down. However, for anyone involved in a management role within shopping centres it’s still a ‘must read’.



Jurek Leon is a storyteller, trainer and coach who presents courses and addresses seminars on word of mouth marketing, motivation, customer focussed selling and managing the customer experience. Subscribe to Jurek's FREE monthly ‘Terrific Tips’ e-newsletter at Alternatively, email

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Jurek Leon is a storyteller, speaker and trainer. Subscribe to Jurek's FREE monthly 'Terrific Tips' e-newsletter at Alternatively, email