A Whole New Mall Game
It's a mall! It's a cute downtown! No, it's just a clever design to make you spend, spend, spend.
(MONEY Magazine) – Real estate developers say the hottest new retail venue is the "lifestyle center," an open-air mall that mimics a small-town Main Street. There are already 149 across the U.S., with 87 more planned. Shopper beware. These quaint spaces are designed to get you to open your wallet. The average visitor blows $80 an hour at a lifestyle center vs. $56 at a regular mall, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Know what's in store for you, and it'll be easier to keep your cash under control.
How they get you to come Since the mall itself isn't the destination it once was, lifestyle centers offer more to their shoppers than just shopping. Santana Row in San Jose hosts a farmers' market; Bradley Fair in Wichita has free concerts; the Promenade Shops at Centerra in Loveland, Colo. have an ice-skating rink. When you go, you're a captive audience for retailers' marketing schemes. Before the free Friday night movies at Centerra, for example, staffers pass out goody bags filled with discounts for shopping during slower hours. Looking for an in-and-out experience? You can have that too. Parking spaces next to each store "create the perception of an efficient shopping trip," says retail marketing consultant Paco Underhill. Bet it won't be as quick as you think.
How they get you to stay The lifestyle center is designed in a zigzag pattern, so that from any given place, your eye catches a few more stores down the way--but not too many. The effect is that you're drawn through without being overwhelmed. "You always see something exciting just around the corner," says developer Terry McEwen.
How they get you when you've gotta go Often there's only one public bathroom, and it's tucked away behind the manager's office. "But restrooms drive customer traffic," says Underhill. That's why many retailers have them, usually in the back--meaning you'll have to pass a lot of merchandise on the way. If you must use the loo, do it in a store you're not at all interested in.
How they feed on your hunger Don't expect to get a $5 meal at a lifestyle center. Here the teen-friendly food court is replaced with fancier sit-down restaurants like P.F. Chang's and Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano, and entrées will run you about $15. Best bet: Come with a full belly.
How they get you to spend Placement is everything. Marketers have discovered that today's time-pressed consumer will spend more if she can easily comparison shop among similar stores, so lifestyle centers will group, say, Ann Taylor, Coldwater Creek and Talbots within 50 feet of one another. And it's around gathering spots--fountains, benches and kids' play areas--that you'll find impulse-purchase stores like Sunglass Hut or Build-a-Bear Workshop.