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More than 80% of shoppers say they had at least one problem during their last visit to a mall, and four-fifths of these problems are related to mall diversity and “excitement,” according to a study by the Baker Retailing Initiative at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Verde Group.

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Overall, shoppers experienced an average of three problems during their last trip to an enclosed or open-air mall. The most common problems included an inadequate selection of restaurants, a lack of anything unique, too many stores carrying the same products, difficulty finding a parking spot, and a too-limited range of stores.

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Other problems on mall-shoppers’ lists included too few restrooms, not enough signs and elevators, too many teenagers “hanging” around, and no evidence of environmental consciousness.

“Eighteen to 24-year-olds have the most problems shopping in malls, particularly with parking, boring shopping experiences, and too many teens hanging around,” said Paula Courtney, president of the Verde Group. “They are also the most likely to notice the lack of effort demonstrated by the mall to be environmentally conscious. Twenty-five to 40-year-olds, on the other hand, spend the most time and money in the mall. For this group, their top problem relates to the limited selection of restaurants available.”

Though parking issues were rated as the most serious problems overall, the other issues also have a strong affect on shopper loyalty and their propensity to recommend the mall to others. The fact that four of the top five problems are related to a lack of diversity, variety and excitement is telling, the study said.

The research, which also examines the dimensions of shopper loyalty and purchasing decisions, states that taken together, these diversity issues point to an undercurrent of mall-related dissatisfaction that goes far deeper than shopper problems with individual stores.

Boring Malls Affect Shopper Loyalty

While the following elements encompass various aspects of the mall shopping experience, the study finds that diversity is the single most important element that drives mall loyalty, though comfort, accessibility and navigation are also important components.

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Diversity: The range of stores and restaurants, uniqueness of products, special events, environmental consciousness, and an an attractive and inviting appearance.
Comfort: A mall that is sufficiently clean, well maintained, has easily located washrooms and is secure.
Accessibility: The ease of finding parking and the ability to find parking where wanted.
Navigation: The ease of finding the mall, understanding the mall layout and having adequate signage to refer to.

In terms of shopper loyalty, the study found that mall “mundaness” is the greatest perpetrator of shopper defection. Offering nothing new, a limited range of stores, and too many stores carrying the same products are three of the five problems that are most likely to result in shoppers going elsewhere, the study found.

“The lack of ‘discovery’ or the ‘what’s around the corner’ factor seems to be sorely missing for shoppers who want to enjoy themselves at the mall,” says Wharton Professor Stephen J. Hoch, faculty director of Wharton’s Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative. “These findings should be a call-to-action for mall developers who are failing to quench this thirst for excitement. Malls can’t be mundane in this economic climate, they need to excite shoppers from the moment they arrive vs, make them want to turn around and leave.”

Additional research findings:

  • Four in five shoppers encountered at least one problem while shopping in a mall.
  • Previous findings show that only half of consumers experience store-related problems.
  • On average, a shopper will drive 25 miles to their mall of choice and visit five stores.
  • One in three will spend at least two hours in the mall.
  • Only one in 10 do not make a purchase; the majority spend an average of $150.
  • More shoppers say enclosed malls did not seem to be taking measures to be environmentally conscious.
  • Open-air malls are more apt to be seen as lacking in rest areas and easily located washrooms.
  • Crowds impeding movement is a more typical complaint for shoppers in open-air malls.
  • Males experience more mall-related problems than females.
  • While both genders are equally likely to have encountered problems, males say they experienced more, on average.
  • Men were more likely to say there weren’t enough signs in the mall to help them find what they were looking for, nor in the parking lot, to help them decide where to park.
  • Men were also more likely to say that there are too many stores carrying the same products.
  • One-third of females tell someone about the most serious problem they experienced compared to less than one-quarter of males.
  • Females are more likely to recommend the mall they last shopped in.

About the study: “The Shopping Mall, A Study on Customer Dissatisfaction” represents the fifth annual study on retail shopping experiences conducted by the Verde Group, and the Baker Retailing Initiative at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In total, 917 telephone interviews were conducted nationally with American consumers between October 29 – November 9, 2008. The sample was skewed toward females, approximately 2:1. All respondents were randomly selected and qualified if they had personally shopped in a fully enclosed or open air mall within the past month.

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