Mall Culture Gets Hit by a Bus
BY CATHERINE LITCHFIELD '23
“Get in losers, we’re going shopping.” As reflected in iconic movies such as Mean Girls; malls are a staple of American culture. However, in 2010, interest in malls began declining due to the rise of online shopping and a lack of shoppers in department stores. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated this issue, with e-commerce increasing by 43% in 2020, revealing how online shopping has contributed to a record number of store closures. Shopping in-person in malls has declined, and consumers should be worried. We need to keep malls around because they are important to the economy, provide social benefits, and give us opportunities to experience clothing in a way that’s impossible online.
Malls are designed to be town “centers,” promoting consumerism and creating job openings, making them vital to America’s economy. Their central location easily attracts more customers, allowing towns to use malls as strategic ways to make more money and boost consumerism within the whole area. In fact, they provide $400 billion in local tax revenue annually, and towns with malls depend on this money to pay for fire stations, schools, and more. Malls also help local and national economies, as they provide locations for local businesses and pop-up shops. There are many job opportunities because of the multitude of stores in and surrounding the mall, further benefiting the economy and job market. Although online shopping creates virtual jobs, they are less beneficial than in-person jobs because they fail to provide social interaction and learning experiences.
Beyond just the economic benefits, malls are also gathering places, not just for shops, but for social activities--a place for people to hang out. The perfect escape from home on a rainy day, malls play an important role in social culture and are a community for everyone. Humans crave central social centers, and malls used to fit the bill as bustling ecosystems of people—but with the rise of online shopping, this culture has disappeared. No more impromptu shopping trips with your best friends, exhausting yourselves by trying on all kinds of clothing, and reenergizing by eating greasy food at the food court.
Furthermore, shopping in person gives the customer more control over their purchases. Customers often forget the feeling of touching a soft sweater and having to buy it, or of feeling a shirt you loved the look of but felt like sandpaper. Texture enhances the shopping experience, but this is impossible to recreate online. Similarly, online shopping can be misleading. How many times have you bought a shirt that looked great online, only to hate how it looks on you? The ability to see and try on clothing in person is essential because it ensures that everything you buy is something that fits and looks perfect, and as much as a size chart can help online, it’s just not the same as shopping in-person. Additionally, physically shopping solidifies the concept of spending. It’s easy to be swept up by the temptation to add countless items to your online cart, ignoring prices and coughing up the money at checkout. Shopping in person forces consumers to pay attention to how much they’re paying and allows them to weigh the price compared to the garment. Finally, maybe one of the most obvious advantages of in-person shopping is avoiding long shipping times and costs. There’s nothing more satisfying than buying a shirt and owning it instantly. Unfortunately, the fall of malls takes away these advantages.
The current statistics regarding malls are frightening, as we can see the effects of a decline in mall culture: closing department stores, emptier malls, and available real estate in malls. The future of shopping should not be online because then we consumers would lose all the important advantages and necessities malls provide. To change the direction of shopping malls’ future, it is critical to get out and buy more in person.