I was in Boston with some of my best friends from college over the weekend. It was a fun trip. It also led to three experiences involving shopping:

Experience #1: Friday morning.

I went to the mall ahead of the trip. I needed a shirt, and wanted to try Untuckit. Observations:

  1. In general, shopping is not my thing. In fact, I literally texted my wife during the trip: "Hi. I am remembering why I hate malls. And shopping."
  2. I made this exception -- buying something in a mall, rather than online -- only because this was one of the few times that delivery a day or two later wouldn't cut it.
  3. You know what they offer at Untuckit while you're waiting for your new shirt do be steamed? Bourbon. At 10:30 in the morning. It was a little early for me thanks, but another customer took them up on it.

Experience #2: Saturday afternoon.

I landed at Logan. The most important thing I had to do on this trip was to make sure I got a little present for my preschool-aged daughter. 

So I made sure I took care of that before I even left the airport. (I got her a children's book and a little stuffed duck, in case you're wondering. We've only read Make Way for Ducklings about 50 times.)

Experience #3: Sunday afternoon.

Heading home, I put my phone on airplane mode and started reading The Wall Street Journal. And I came across this article: What Does It Take to Get People to the Mall? Drag Queens, Racy Circus Acts and Disco Parties

The headline sort of says it all. Among the stunts that it chronicles malls doing recently to counteract declining foot traffic:

  • A California mall threw a silent disco party. ("Stores experienced a 20% to 200% uptick in business" that day.)
  • A Minnesota mall invited customers to walk their dogs inside before it opened in the morning. (This one seems like it was maybe not a success; there were problems with people not cleaning up after the dogs.)
  • In Los Angeles, 1,500 people showed up for an elaborate Pride celebration. ("Some people who attended returned later to shop," a spokeswoman said.)

I've written a lot lately about the convergence of digital retail and brick and mortar recently. I'm intrigued by some of the things that Walmart, Target, Ikea and other big companies have achieved, for example.

But that's mostly about individual brands. What about the malls? A report last year suggested between 20 and 25 percent of them will close by 2023. Assuming it's worth trying to save them, what's the best strategy?

It seems to me, based on my own experience and observations, that there are likely three reasons why people still go shopping in person, instead of simply ordering things on their phones, reviewing what arrives, and returning whatever doesn't work for them:

  • First, they'll go when they have no other choice. 
  • Second, they'll go when shopping in person is paradoxically more convenient than shopping online.
  • Finally, they'll go when they just like the experience -- whether it's shopping itself, or the silent disco party, or "glass of bourbon with your shirt," that makes it fun for them.

I'd never want to run a shopping mall, but if I were in that position I'd triple down on those three incentives: necessity, convenience, and experience. 

Anything that differentiates you from your competition, and that customers actually want (at least sometimes), sounds like a smart strategy to grow.

Published on: Oct 21, 2019
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