A shopping mall isn’t just a rectangular concrete structure surrounded by landscaped areas with fountains and manicured green grassed seating areas. No, a mall is a carefully thought out, sensory controlled building designed to make you part with your hard earned dollars as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The psychology of shopping actually has a name: Scripted Disorientation. It is the result of a theory called the Gruen Transfer, named after Austrian Victor Gruen, architect of the first shopping mall in Minneapolis in 1956. The Gruen Transfer is named for the action of the exact moment when shoppers lose track of the reason why they came to the mall in the first place. The mall environment is designed to make them disoriented and distracted and at the mercy of retailers offering items they had no intention of buying when they first arrived.
Mall entrances are nondescript and plain, intended to give shoppers pause and adjust to the mindset of shopping as they make the transition from parking lot to mall.
There are usually no clocks visible and windows are covered with images that let light filter in but don’t allow shoppers to see directly outside. Mall floors are shiny and loud underfoot, music is louder than it should be so people speak to each other at a higher volume. All this controlled noise is designed to drive consumers into dimmer, quieter and carpeted stores.
Malls use mirrors between stores because they tend to cause shoppers to slow down and look at themselves. Retail stretches are usually no longer than a 1,000 feet as anything longer makes them lose interest. Pillars are kept to a minimum to reduce obstruction to views of stores and restaurants. All these tricks are designed to “capture and contain” the shopper.
Ikea is one retailer that uses confusion as a means of capturing and containing its customer. Studies have shown that it takes the average Ikea shopper 30 minutes just to navigate through the showroom and that a shopper will become disoriented 15 minutes into a visit. The average Ikea shopper spends 60% more than she planned when she first arrived. Cheap kitchen ware and household decor is situated at the front of the store causing the customer to load up on bargains before she even gets to what she came for.
Most shoppers go to a mall with the intention of purchasing a particular item but this is rarely the result. We’ve all had the experience of leaving with more than we intended, spending more money and time than we thought we would. Next time you’re at the mall, try to stick to your list and not give in to the Gruen Transfer. I dare you!