I was out of town yesterday and stopped in an unfamiliar mall to pick up a few things. It was one of those giant strip malls with a Home Depot on one end and a Target on the other. I could see another giant strip mall, with a Lowe’s at one end and a Wal-Mart at the other, across the superhighway. On the third corner was an outlet mall, designed to look the way downtowns used to look before they went out of business because it was easier to drive to the mall than downtown.
But now the traffic around malls is horrendous. For the life of me, I could not figure out how to get from the mall with the Home Depot to the mall with the Lowe’s by car, yet I could see both stores. If it hadn’t been for the superhighway, I could have walked from one to the other. I ended up in the fake downtown mall by accident. It would have been easier to drive downtown.
All three malls were surrounded by housing developments, some of them just across the access road and a short walk to the mall. But no one was walking because, one, you’d have to climb over a 16-foot privacy fence.
Two, you’d be taking your life in your hands to walk across a mall parking lot where normal traffic laws don’t apply. Customers drive on the left, they don’t look in the rearview mirror, and they think stop signs are quaint decorations of a bygone era, like old-time street lamps.
Three, if you bought something, how would you get it home on foot? You could always wander away with a shopping cart, but what would the neighbors think? So even if you live across the street from a giant mall, you have to drive there. They’ve been designed for cars, not people.
I spent about $130 on this trip — not hard when the replacement cartridge for my printer costs $60. When I got home, Sue was too tired to cook, and I’m not smart enough to cook, so we ordered a pizza and had it delivered. With the tip, it cost about $20. That’s when I started to wonder what would happen if I called the store where I bought the $60 printer cartridge and asked that it be delivered. Would the store tell me to get lost? Or to buy the cartridge online?
How is it that I can get $10 of Chinese food delivered to my door at 8 o’clock at night, but if I called the closest big-box store and said, “I’ll take that $3,000, 52-inch HDTV that I was looking at this afternoon. Can you have someone drop it by the house?” they’d hang up on me?
Obviously, it’s not practical to deliver some things, but how did this cash-and-carry system we have now come to be? The first words I hear out of a cashier’s mouth are usually, “Can I have your ZIP code?” not, “Can we deliver this for you?” That’s because the store does want to deliver one thing to my house – junk mail – which you and I subsidize because the store gets a special rate.
Sure, a lot of people like to shop; they like to touch and feel things. But they also like to have things delivered. All the brick-and-mortar stores complain about Amazon.com stealing their business, but don’t the stores near us have a big advantage over Amazon? Amazon charges an arm and a leg for next-day delivery, while our local stores could give us same-day delivery, and it’d be nice if they made it free. My little local flower shop can do it; why can’t multibillion-dollar corporations do it? And put some unemployed kids to work at the same time?
I’m sure I’m missing something that businesspeople will be happy to point out to me – for example, if they have to hire people to start delivering things all over town, how will their CEO be able to buy his fifth home in Switzerland so he can visit his money without having to stay in a hotel?
Jim Mullen’s book “Now in Paperback” is now in paperback. You can reach him at jimmullenbooks.com.