By  on December 10, 2008

The economy isn’t the only factor working against malls.

According to a new survey by the Verde Group and the Baker Retailing Initiative at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, at least 80 percent of shoppers experienced at least one problem during their last mall visit.

The study, which interviewed 917 U.S. consumers this fall, showed that customers’ mall dissatisfaction transcends displeasure with individual stores. “The Shopping Mall, A Study on Customer Dissatisfaction” — the fifth annual study on retail shopping experiences conducted by the Verde and Baker teams — cited these four areas for mall improvement:

• Discovery: range of stores and restaurants, uniqueness of products, special events, environmental consciousness, an attractive and inviting appearance.

• Comfort: sufficient cleanliness, proper maintenance, easily located washrooms, ample security.

• Accessibility: ease of finding parking, ability to find parking where wanted.

• Navigation: ease of finding the mall, understanding the mall layout, adequate signage.

Of those, discovery was the biggest issue.

“The lack of ‘discovery’ or the ‘what’s around the corner’ factor seems to be sorely missing for shoppers who want to enjoy themselves at the mall,” said Stephen J. Hoch, Wharton professor and faculty director of the Baker Retailing Initiative. “These findings should be a call to action for mall developers who are failing to quench this thirst for excitement. Malls can’t be mundane in this economic climate. They need to excite shoppers from the moment they arrive, versus make them want to turn around and leave.”

On average, customers drive 25 miles to their mall of choice and visit five stores while there, according to the study. One in three shoppers spends at least two hours in the mall. Nine out of 10 make a purchase, and the majority spend $150 during their visit. The study noted no material differences between satisfaction with traditional malls versus open-air ones.

Demographic groups reported different levels of satisfaction and different types of problems.

“Eighteen- to 24-year-olds have the most problems shopping in malls, particularly with parking, boring shopping experiences and too many teens hanging around,” added Paula Courtney, president of the Verde Group. “They are also the most likely to notice the lack of effort demonstrated by the mall to be environmentally conscious. Twenty-five- to 40-year-olds, on the other hand, spend the most time and money in the mall. For this group, their top problem relates to the limited selection of restaurants available.”

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