Friday, December 09, 2011

What malls won't do for money

kw: popular culture, advertisements, shopping malls

Ever since about Halloween, a TV ad has been running, an anti-Mall spot with a very catchy song and dance (to the tune of "Up on the House Top"), by TJ Maxx and a couple of other retailers. I began to wonder, was this taped in a mall, or did they build a mock-up? If they used a mall, I suspect they paid them well!

I also considered: although we do, as the lyrics state, "pay through the nose", do we really? It costs between half a dollar and a dollar per mile to drive a car (more for luxury models); I am frugal, and it costs me about $0.70 per mile. You need to drive a real beater and do your own maintenance to get the costs down in the $0.50/mile range. How do the extra miles and costs add up if you need to drive from store to store?

I live a mile from one mall, a rather modest one, and twelve miles from a real mega-mall. The collection of retailers and retail outlets in this area is pretty well concentrated in several shopping areas (what we used to call outdoor malls), that are spaced about two miles apart in any direction. So if I want to go to four places, I'll drive a total of two miles if I can find everything at the mall, and about ten miles to visit four separate places and return home. The eight mile difference costs only $5.60. If I can save $1.40 per purchase at the separate stores, then the extra trips were worth it.

But then, what is the value of my time? Rather than use my own compensation, which is a bit on the high side, I'll use a more average figure of $20 per hour. Store-to-store time includes driving and walking, and comes to ten minutes for a 2-mile trip. This adds up to 40-50 minutes for the four-store visit. Can I do my shopping in the mall, at four stores, and spend less than a total 50 minutes going store-to-store? Let's assume I can, and that the total is half, or about 25 minutes. The mall trip then saves $8.30 or so in "opportunity cost".

Add this to the $5.60, and we have about $14 that needs to be made up, or $3.50 per purchase. It is worth checking into your purchases beforehand, and deciding if you can save $3.50 per purchase at the separate stores. For some items, particularly clothing, it's a no-brainer. But both the separate stores and the mall stores complicate matters by having specials and sales.

I think, for a lot of people, the time saving is worth more than the dollar amount, and the convenience of the mall simply outweighs everything else.

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