Paco Underhill stands in a Victoria's Secret in a New York City mall, caressing a mannequin wearing a frilly bra. If the store had chairs, he says, more men would feel comfortable spending time in the store. Women could then browse longer and would probably spend more. Such observations fill the shopping maven's new book, The Call of the Mall: A Walking Tour Through the Crossroads of Our Shopping Culture. Underhill is also the CEO of Envirosell, a Manhattan-based retail consulting firm.
Why do malls seem so uncool?
They were built for a generation of women that doesn't exist anymore--to help them escape from their husbands, housework, and kids. The fact that women now work outside of the home has been a challenge to the malls.
How can they be fixed?
What we see is mall management going from being landlords to being creators of special places. The most interesting innovation has happened offshore. I've seen parking lots in Switzerland and Spain that direct you to the next open space. And in Moscow at MEGA mall, the Ikea has a place to check your coat, and they give you fancy shopping carts.
What else should malls do differently?
They should market more to seniors. The majority of discretionary funds are spent by the 50-and-over set. Yet mall managers and marketers don't find this segment to be as glamorous as Generations X and Y.
What do older shoppers want?
Part of the key to selling to them is selling the things they care about. It is not selling to Grandma; it's selling her a gift for a grandchild. In terms of architecture, it's benches. Better color and light choices. Bag and coat checks. Valet parking. Dining choices that stretch across low, medium, and high price points. And one of the ironies is that, by making these improvements for seniors, everyone benefits.