I find routines in life boring, so the other day I did something I’d never normally do. I took an hour or so alone and walked around every floor of the Mall of America and looked at each store and restaurant while observing the people who milled about during the noon hour. I’ve been there many times, but I’ve never paid attention, so I didn’t see what the Mall of America really is – a giant monument to emotional emptiness.
If you’ve been reading this blog you know that I am a big advocate of free enterprise and free markets. I believe these companies have every right to do what they are doing, but what I saw at THE MALL (what we in Minnesota call the MOA) left me feeling sad.
As I looked at each store, the products, the images, the colors, I asked myself two questions:
- Is this store interesting to me?
- What does this store sell?
I only found a few of the stores interesting enough to describe and I’ll share that with you in a moment, but first…
99% of the stores in THE MALL are meaningless to me. I realize 38-year-old males are not the demographic THE MALL is after, so that didn’t surprise me.
But this did surprise me:
When I looked closely, 90% of stores weren’t selling useful products. They were selling symbols – symbols of youth, health, beauty, sex, happiness, sophistication, and wealth. The next time you are in a mall, look closely and you’ll see what I mean. The products are secondary, it’s feelings they sell.
In the front door of Abercrombie and Fitch was a giant mural of several half naked teenage boys running across a grassy plain with their butt cracks showing. Now, I could show my butt crack too, and I don’t need $150.00 jeans to do it. But If I dressed that way, I think people would just feel sick. I know I would. No pair of jeans is going to make me look like the 18-year-old models in the mural. But I have to ask the question, does anyone want to see these boy’s butt cracks? Even teenage girls? There were a lot of young men roaming the halls, and I didn’t see one of them that looked remotely like the mural. I wondered how many of them bought into this nonsense. I assume if you (un)dressed like the boys in the mural, and went to THE MALL, you’d be arrested.
In many ways the stores aimed at females are even worse. I won’t get into details, but Victoria’s Secret doesn’t sell underwear.
We’ve been conditioned to need certain stuff to feel good about ourselves, but the stuff always falls short, because it isn’t what we really want. It is a Faustian bargain. As soon as you think you have IT, whatever IT is slips through your grasp, because IT’s someone else selling you a lie about yourself. That’s why consumerism can leave us feeling empty and cheated unless we go back for more. It’s a lot like Methamphetamine. People get hooked on it for a reason. And don’t kid yourself, none of us are above it.
The two stores I found redeeming were:
- The Apple Store. I played with the Air for a little bit and found the rest of the gadgets interesting. But I am probably biased. I suppose I felt different about The Apple Store because I’m a geek. But I do know they aren’t selling technology. They are selling style and sophistication. A lot of companies sell technology. Apple isn’t one of them. Technology is just the vehicle. We all know Apple products are the sexiest.
- A guy who looked like Grizzly Adams ran a gourmet doggy treat stand which was packed with customers even though the mall doesn’t allow pets. He stood out like a Hummer on Earth Day. And I know why he is so successful – he sells love – a little slice of love you can take home to your dog. I want to go back and interview this guy.
These two stores were also the busiest in the mall and that tells me something about customers. They aren’t as shallow as some marketers believe.
The trip left me feeling sad for our culture. But I have hope. If I can see the problem, so can you and many others, and it is just a matter of time before we evolve into a species which rises above needing a certain pair of underwear to feel complete. It won’t be tomorrow, but It’ll happen. Have faith.
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