Paco Underhill’s informal book Call of the Mall is like a trip to the mall with several different customers and features conversations with salespeople and with browsers and buyers. In the course of the book he answers the question in the prologue, “Why are we here?” According to Underhill, while families visit malls, malls are primarily designed for women (the mainstay of every mall is women’s apparel) and little is done to make men feel comfortable there. He also claims that the lack of public transportation to most malls is designed to keep the “baddies” off the premises. As a result, malls are elitist, snobbish, and xenophobic.
Underhill’s short chapters deal with such topics as department placement (the women’s shoe department is often near cosmetics), limited access to high-end stores, the slow pace of the “meanderthals” who prowl the malls, the reasons why bookstores and men’s clothing stores are moving out of malls to free-standing buildings, mall cuisine, and differences in how men and women shop (men shop for clothes the way they shop for beer). An expert on consumer behavior and a consultant to mall developers, Underhill faults malls for poor lighting, bland window displays, lack of directions and helpful maps, and being inattentive to the needs of male shoppers.
Underhill discusses malls in other countries and paints a bleak picture of the American mall’s future. Few new malls are being built, and many are being “repurposed.” Because of their location, malls are not accessible to an increasingly elderly population; online shopping has grown dramatically; computers and technology are taking larger bites out of customers’ wallets; and women have less time to shop. While teenagers will continue to use the mall as an “affinity center,” Underhill believes that salvation through shopping has ended. According to Underhill, the heyday of the mall is history