June 14, 2006

Fewer Shoppers Hit the Mall for the Heck of it: Survey

NEW YORK -- Despite a reputation for big spending and lots of available cash, fewer Americans shop just for the fun of it than do consumers in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a new online survey to be released on Thursday.

Shopping is still one of the world's most popular indoor sports, with 74 percent of consumers worldwide saying they shop "just for something to do," said Tom Markert, chief marketing officer for ACNielsen, the research firm behind the survey.

But the United States' numbers of recreational shoppers, at 68 percent, lags behind the international average, according to the survey which was taken in November 2005.

While once considered a draw, sprawling suburban malls have become a big reason that U.S. shoppers -- especially women -- have soured on the whole experience, said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Consulting Group in New Jersey.

After World War II, housewives enjoyed strolling through big malls with lots of choices, but today's working women do not want to traipse miles in a search for a pair of shoes.

"For her, shopping is a chore. The whole thing ends up being an expedition," Barnard said.

Americans are also the world's most likely to "loathe" shopping for clothes, the survey found.

"People come to see magic. They want to see something new. Lately, there hasn't been as much innovation," Markert said.

Whole Foods Market Inc. and Nordstrom Inc. have defied that trend by creating new retail models, he said. Whole Foods brings shoppers in by handing out samples, while Nordstrom hires concierges and better trained salespeople.

In the Asian-Pacific region, 84 percent of consumers are recreational shoppers, with numbers reaching as high as 93 percent in Hong Kong and Indonesia.

The allure of cooling off in an air-conditioned big box store, as much as buying what is being sold inside, has made shopping a popular pastime in tropical zones of the developing world, Markert said.

"If you can get someone into your store one or two more times a year, that can make a real difference to your bottom line," he said. "If you can get people inside, they'll buy."

ACNielsen's survey polled over 23,500 consumers online in 42 markets in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.