I love shopping online. I can take my time. I can easily compare styles and prices. I don’t have to stand in line or fight any crowds. The other day, I visited a prominent and stylishly fashionable mall I hadn’t been in for over five years, and the changes were astonishing.
The first thing I noticed is that three bookstores had vanished! No Barnes and Noble outlet. No Borders. No Waldenbooks. Gone. Done. Vanquished. I couldn’t believe my eyes. No books? Are people reading everything electronically now, or are people just not interested in reading at all? I suppose I could find some solace that only one video game store remained out of four.
The noise-to-quiet ratio was also fully out of whack. How can a jeans store and a funky shirt store pound so much environmentally poisonous music into the narrow walking spaces of the malls? You can’t think. You certainly can’t hear. Your equilibrium is actually affected as you wonder if you’re standing upright or if the pounding bass line is tipping you over like a hurricane wind.
I hate the T-Mobile huckstering from kiosks. I will never buy a phone from you! Stop shouting at me. Don’t harass me with a sales pitch every time I walk by you.
The Food Court goons are out in force — with each restaurant in a row forcing you to try a free sample of their awful, greasy, food.
Are these the signs of a failing economy, or of burgeoning businesses, or has life at the mall just become harsher and less delightful?
One clue might be that online sales are way up and in-person sales are plummeting:
Online sales in the U.S. reportedly grew 12% year-over-year in December 2010. Health and beauty retailers reported an even steeper rise beyond 23%. What makes these trends particularly interesting is the portion of sales generated through mobile devices. These gadgets reportedly contributed 5.5% of online retail sales, a sharp increase over November 2010.
I decided to do a little comparison shopping with the Men’s Gap store in the mall and, when I returned home, online at Gap.com. The results were disturbing.
In the mall store, a pair of Gap jeans were on sale for $57.00USD marked down from their original price of $80.00USD.
Online, the same pair of jeans were base priced at $50.00USD — and I could take off an additional 35% at checkout — making the final price $32.50USD.
So, I could pay $57.00, plus tax, for in-person right now jeans, or I could pay $32.50 plus some shipping costs and wait a day or two for my distressed denim. I think the extreme in the comparison is telling. How — and why! — can Gap sustain a brick-and-mortar store when their online presence undercuts their own human effort?
Do I really want to pay a higher price to try on jeans in-person? No real man I know tries on jeans in a store anyway, so what’s the point of in-person shopping when you can beat the price by a mile just by going online from the comfort of your own home? Impulse purchasing in-person can’t be that big of an economic powerhouse, can it?