306: The Call of the Mall by Paco Underhill

by Gerard


306.30973: Underhill, Paco. Call of the Mall. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. 213 p. ISBN 0-7432-3592-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 300: Social Sciences
  • 306: Culture and institutions
  • 306.3: Economic institutions
  • +0973: United States

For most of us, the mall has been around for as long as we can remember. But we hardly think about it that much; we just take it for granted. But Paco Underhill, on the other hand, founder of Envirosell, thinks about them all the time. His job is to meet with store executives and help run their stores better, by actually sending in his team of observers and watching how shoppers interact with the sales staff, the fixtures, and the products. Let’s see what he finds out.

Underhill explores almost all aspects of mall sociology and economics. Underhill spends a lot of time with shoppers, listening to their advice, as well as with other consultants to gain a better understanding of the retail environment. He explores the parking lot with executives to help them understand it from the patrons’ point-of-view. He checks out the stores, the food court, the random kiosks, and even the bathrooms. He travels to malls all around the United States. Each chapter of Call of the Mall is devoted to a different part of the mall. Here are just some of his observations:

  • Stores should sponsor the restrooms and make samples of their products available there (as well as where the patron can go to buy them).
  • The store directories should be tabletop rather than a monolith that blocks the view of the newcomer.
  • Food courts should be set up more like roadside bistros to facilitate the people-watching that naturally occurs there.
  • There should be slightly more areas for men to congregate to keep them from nagging the people who dragged them there.

While there were some genuinely novel insights, most of his conclusions were rather uninspired. Although, they are the same gripes everybody has when going to the mall. Executives and mall owners seem only to want to simply squeeze money out of already existing business rather than spend a bit to encourage more spending.

He does see hope for the mall shopping landscape, however. New malls are incorporating innovative designs to appeal to a different breed of shoppers. They’re becoming more open-air, more ecologically friendly, and more integrated into the communities they support. While I’m still conflicted about the society that reveres the commercial good over the social good, it appears that we can have a balance of both and this book shows how we can get a little closer to that reality. A decent, quick read.