May 11th, 2012

In Which I Go to the Mall

I have actually been to the mall in the not too distant past. However, most of my trips to the mall are motivated by the desire to buy a pile of clothes from Lane Bryant. There's a Gymboree in town, so I don't usually go to the mall for that, and Hanna Andersson stuff is usually bought via the website. Zappos supplies my shoes. Etc.

Anyway.

A while ago, the guy who set up the retail operation for Apple went to JCPenney. He brought with him some folk who had worked with him at his previous job at Target/Dayton, IIRC. I thought this was pretty cool, especially when I heard they were going to fix their pricing strategy. I was going to wait until August so they'd have plenty of time to get all the problems fixed before I checked them out in person. They hired Ellen DeGeneres and in this month's catalog -- May, of Mother's Day -- they included some lesbian moms in their families. This set off the second boycott from a group of Particularly Evil Christian Women, and reading Jezebel's coverage of same pushed me over the edge. I went to go give them money today, hopefully in exchange for something that we could use around the house.

I got some great stuff. In addition to some cute jeans (a pair of crop and a pair of full length), olive crop pants and a couple of tops, I found a handful of Angry Birds t-shirts for my son. A good sized bag of clothing came in at almost exactly $150 -- comparable to a trip to Target, possibly slightly cheaper, and I was not shopping clearance racks or May promotions or "best prices" consciously: I just bought things that I thought looked good off the regular racks and happened upon some promotions and otherwise bought regular price. The store was clean, well-lit (easy to see everything but not painfully bright and only one flickering bulb caught my attention) and neat. The racks were not perfectly ordered (sizes out of order, styles intermixed) despite the fact that I was the first person through the mall entry when the gate was pulled back. In multiple departments, I had to go up on tip-toe to remove things from high shelves or racks which were not also available on lower shelves and racks. This is a problem, because I am 5'7" ish (ish on the high side of 7, not the low side). If I have trouble, an average woman shopper might not be able to manage. The fitting room furnishings are attractive and recently refreshed, however, the hardware (hooks, rails) are not consistently installed correctly (pulling away from the wall, slanted in a way that reduces their functionality).

In short, JCP is well on the way to being an enjoyable shopping experience and one I will include high on the list when I want some new clothing for myself or my children. I anticipate they'll get the rest of the bugs worked out as they go along (it took Target the better part of a decade to figure out how to get the fitting room hooks right, IIRC, and the JCP hooks are _much_ more appealing aesthetically which suggests the problem will be more difficult to solve).

I screwed up slightly in that I headed out the door more or less as soon as the kids were gone, arriving at the mall (about 20 minutes or so away) a little after 9:30 a.m. Thus, the only store open seemed to be Sears (and while I do shop Lands' End online, my last experience in person in a Sears branded store was negative enough to really put me off and I haven't seen news to make me recover just yet). I got a coffee at Starbucks and read news for a while, which is how I walked into JCP right as it opened. I'm not sure what I think of mall hours. They seem a little inconvenient and I'm wondering if I'm the only person who feels that way. I know why they were that way in the past (an artifact of school hours and mothers of school age children being the most likely employees and customers), but I'm not so sure that makes sense in the present.

A Medium Sized Addendum on Mall Hours

When I only had one child, T., and he was quite small, he needed fairly regular outings to, er, avoid driving everyone around him nuts. He wasn't the only kid like that. At various points in time, he was highly car-averse, so we had to come up with walkable/strollerable/bikeable options. But when he was okay with a car ride (or really liked a car ride), we could go further afield.

We went to Pheasant Lane Mall for a variety of reasons: they had a Target attached to the mall (and the Target was open earlier than other stores), they had kiddie rides, it was the closest good-sized mall, etc. When we moved to Massachusetts and had a second child, we tried to find a good hang-out location: we found malls with small trains, kiddie rides, a carousel, etc. But an attached Target was hard to find, which meant if you went early in the morning (before 10 a.m.), you couldn't do much at the mall.

I hadn't really put this together until arriving inadvertently too early at Solomon Pond today. Over the last 20 years, the population of moms-available-to-go-to-the-mall-during-the-day has swung very hard towards moms-with-very-small-children (the rest tend to have jobs and go to the mall in the evening and on weekends like everyone else). During that same time frame, moms-with-very-small-children have swarmed places like aquariums, children's museums, science museums, etc. with strollers and forced those estimable cultural destinations to adjust their offerings (and facilities in some cases) to accommodate them. But the malls haven't really done anything to help out.

Which seems outrageously, baroquely, stupid.

What am I missing?

ETA: Target and Wal-Mart hours have consistently extended earlier in the morning than mall hours, and their market share growth probably wasn't driven solely by their pricing.