Author: Paco Underhill
Title: Call of the Mall
Paperback ISBN: 0743235924
Published: 2005 by Simon & Schuster
Rating: 4.30 / 5.00
Paco Underhill comes back at us with a follow up to Why We Buy. This title focuses exclusively on the mall environment and its retail selling environment. Underhill learned from many of the recommendation of bad ideas made during Why We Buy. Underhill does occasionally make specific recommendations in Call of the Mall, but they are more realistic and feasible than many of the ridiculous notions the author put forth in his previous title. Also, this books is less of a sales pitch for Underhill's company and more social commentary. Interestingly enough, Underhills occasional dark and witty humor clearly suggests that he does not care much for the modern incarnation of the mall. His scathing commentary holds no punches on where malls have failed shoppers and the community at large.
Call of the Mall is an extremely quick read, largely due to its often conversational style during which one line sentences of duologue are exchanged between Underhill and his guests that walk the mall. Underhill asks questions about what other people see, why they shop, how they shop, and if things make sense from the perspective of your typical mall goer. The diologue is often humerus and contains many insightful and witty remarks. The pace of reading is such that the book can easily be completed in a single day with only a few sittings.
We receive a brief introduction on the history of how the modern mall has developed and its suburb connections. As city's grew out ward and well to do people begin moving to the burbs and commuting via car, malls popped up outside of the cities off nearby highways in towns prepared to offer huge financial incentives. First as open malls that took the place of downtown retailing, the malls then became enclosed, then incorporated entertainment, and now the trend has reversed itself with specialty malls going for a more open and natural feel.
Underhill undresses the mall from the parking lot to the building design. Going inside, everything from the bathrooms to the food court gets a critical critique. We notice that the mall has grown stagnant and mostly devoted to teenagers, young adult women, and female shoppers in general. The real shopping action is starting to shift to the strip mall with your large box stores. The trend makes sense, malls have become too specialized for most shoppers, too annoying for many, and too expensive for many retailers who can't do much with so little space at such a high dollar rent value.
The author calls for innovation and change in malls across the country and seems to subtly warn that modern malls may go the way of downtown retailing districts if they do not adapt, change, and re-invent themselves in ways that make malls more accommodating, interesting, user friendly, and attractive to a broader range of the population.