Psychology of malls

What is it that makes us spend money? Experts give their views

We’ve all done it: walked past an offer and picked up three packets instead of one, or been drawn into a store by a window display, completely and utterly under the power of the retailer. We also identify with certain brands, believing – certainly on a subconscious level – that they will enrich our lives and make us sportier, more glamorous or healthier. But the lure of the brand is just one of the many factors that go into making us buy a product. Billions are spent around the globe to ensure that we do.

Marcus Evans works for a creative marketing agency called Integer MENA, based in Dubai, and is paid to identify why shoppers spend. He believes that there are two kinds of shopper: those who shop as a sport and those who shop to relax. He calls them ‘masters’ and ‘muses’.

‘Masters are on a mission to get into a store to get the items on their list; they take advantage of all the relevant offers, use any available coupons, maximise associated loyalty rewards and get out again,’ he says. ‘It’s them vs. the store and they intend to win.’ These people will make a shopping list and stick to it. Muses, on the other hand, shop for inspiration and look for new and interesting items. They may make a list but rarely stick to it.

‘However,’ warns Marcus, ‘these broad behaviour patterns are category-specific. ‘For example, a master shopper who plans a trip to a supermarket with military precision can easily morph into a muse shopper when it comes to getting a new outfit for the evening.’

Shop designers go about understanding the shopper in every way they can to squeeze as much cash out of them as possible. One of the influences is the physical layout of the building itself. Jeffery J. Gunning, Vice President of architecture firm RTKL (which designed Mirdif City Centre) believes that it’s a combination of ‘wow’ factor (to make you want to go into the mall) and science (the more detailed aspect that taps into a shopper’s psyche).

‘There is a lot that goes into the mechanics of shopping,’ he says. ‘How far people will walk, what makes them go up escalators, how wide a mall should be. But we also need to understand trends, technology, leisure, fashions and culture.’

We’ve all been to malls where, in order to get to the next floor, you have to walk past all of the shops and window displays to the escalator at the far end – but the trick is not to make this too obvious to the shopper, not to frustrate them and make them walk too far. ‘We achieve this in a way that doesn’t blatantly manipulate their paths or their purses,’ says Jeffery. ‘The most successful malls are simple and clear – shoppers know where to go almost intuitively; sight lines are direct and uncluttered.’

The aforementioned brands also play a big part in pulling customers into certain malls; they attract shoppers through their reputation and advertising, while the other brands benefit from that traffic.

Shoppers in Dubai are no different from anywhere else in the world, believes Marcus. ‘Shoppers the world over have lots in common. They mostly all want a deal and they all want information that is relevant to them. The magic formula is: inform–engage–entertain.’

In other words, if retailers can keep us informed of offers, engaged in products (having done research on their target audience) and entertained (so that it’s a fun experience), apparently we will buy.
See The Checkout reports, for more

Shopping stats

• Consumers here seem to be the hardest hit post-economic crisis (compared to other Middle Eastern countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia) in terms of spending. 61 per cent of shoppers are buying fewer and less expensive items.

• 66 per cent of female shoppers are spending less than they did three months ago.

• When Middle Easterners are shopping, their main aim is to satisfy the needs of family members, rather than hunt for a bargain or get a top-of-the range product.

• 33 per cent of shoppers in the UAE are willing to pay more if it makes their lives easier.

• 18 per cent of shoppers in the Middle East find shopping a chore – yet exactly the same percentage see it as a fun activity.

• 62 per cent of shoppers here state that they are influenced by discount offers.
*Source The Integer Group, February 2010 research

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