Shopping Malls and The Facebook

In the 1980s shopping malls were all the rage. They were the “big thing” in consumer marketing because for the first time, many stores were aggregated in one spot. Stores are obviously cheaper to implement in clusters when they can share infrastructure and utilities like air-conditioning. However, while malls succeeded for many years, that train has sailed. Malls are now the realms of teenyboppers; inferior places to shop. Why?

Two observations come to mind:

  1. Malls are limited in the physical space and customizations they can offer a store. Many of the most successful stores in today’s market succeed because they provide a customer experience. Malls are not conducive to this type of marketing as their allotted “box dimensions” are limiting. If you have ever been to The LL Bean flagship store, consider the experience there versus if LL Bean was located in a mall.
  2. Customers transitioned to window shoppers. Prior to malls, if someone traveled to an individual store location, that trip had a purpose: to make a purchase. However, with malls people began to enjoy brands and stores without feeling the need to actually make a purchase. For store owners this meant they could have 1000 people in the store in a single day, but only make 25 sales.

So what? Well consider what Facebook has done by opening itself up; essentially its become a mall. While there is a ton of hype about the open platform, and some apps are certainly getting great numbers of users, I see two problems. They are the very problems I listed above. First, applications are limited in the amount of interaction they can offer a user. Sure, the hope is that die-hard Facebook app users will ultimately go to that app’s own website, but will they? Will apps remain content staying tiny little widgets and having their dimensions dictated by the mighty mall of Facebook?

Second, there is a huge difference between window shoppers and customers. A quick glance at your feed will likely reinforce that Facebook users are a fickle crowd. In terms of app loyalty, they are much more like window shoppers – they will try it on, but likely return it to the racks. Will Facebook ultimately suffer the same fate as the once fabled Mall? Only time will tell.

*This post was written by Sam Huleatt. Sam is a soon-to-be MBA graduate and social media guru. He writes about things that interest him at LeveragingIdeas.

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