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Call of the Mall: The Geography of Shopping by the Author of Why We Buy Paperback – January 3, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (January 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743235924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743235921
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #136,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Paco Underhill has a genius for retail. As a follow-up to the bestseller Why We Buy, he has written an arch entertaining ethnography of the shopping mall. Energized by two dripping cinnabons, Underhill guides readers on a walking tour to encounter senior mall walkers, teen jean and hoodie shoppers, shoe fetishists, six second sales greeters, kiosk vendors and food court diners.

He nails our ambivalence about indoor shopping saying, "the mall, like television, is an easy American target for self-loathing. We look at the mall and wonder: is this the best we could do?" He gets the devil in the details with wonderful riffs about global malls, parking spaces, the "free" gift with cosmetics, retail tribalism (Nordstrom versus Ann Taylor, Pac Sun versus Abercrombie) and why CD and bookstores have returned to city streets. But Underhill doesn't whine. When he critiques multiplex theatres, raunchy bathrooms or the absence of coatrooms, he also offers witty suggestions. For example, how to turn a well-appointed restroom into a profit center.

Underhill is convinced that online shopping and fatigued boomer shoppers are leading to the "post-mall era." This kind of prediction makes The Call of the Mall a great read. It is a smart, observant meditation--one that suggests the past and the future of our shopping culture. --Barbara Mackoff --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Bestselling "retail anthropologist" Underhill (Why We Buy) talks readers through every aspect of malls, from the first glance at their ugly exteriors along the side of the road to the struggle to remember where the car's parked. Although he offers glimpses of shopping centers around the world, the bulk of this excursion takes place in a mall a few miles outside Manhattan, as Underhill and a rotating cast of companions wander through stores looking for various items, commenting about what does (and doesn't) work about the shopping (and social) experience. The colloquial narration works well, even under potentially strained circumstances ("I need to use the bathroom, and you're coming with me"), although the casual recognition of gender differences in shopping patterns sometimes leads to observations that that readers may find off-putting, like comments on the physical assets of "fat and curvy" women. Underhill clearly revels in mall culture, though he looks upon it with a sharply critical eye; among the biggest complaints: lousy maps and the lack of shopping carts. No detail is too small to escape his attention; if one ever wondered why clothing racks always seem stuffed to capacity, for example, he explains it's because rising real estate prices have largely eliminated storerooms. Some might ask how much detail shoppers really want about how stores entice them to buy, but any nagging doubts will be swept away by the engaging manner in which Underhill passes along the keen insights he's gained through years of retail consulting.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Paco Underhill is the founder and CEO of Envirosell, Inc. His clients include Microsoft, McDonald's, adidas, and Estee Lauder. He is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

I thought this was a very easy book to read.
This book is a MUST READ for anyone in the retail, mall management, or consumer products business.
George Whalin
Thus, in my opinion, you have a second rate book that is not deserving of a 215 page treatment.
TidesManian Devil

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Maybe you are one of those people who loves to spend time at the mall, but there are an awful lot of us who have mixed feelings about shopping and malls. Paco Underhill, who seems to be a mall-lover, speaks to both enthusiastic and reluctant shoppers alike.
This book was originally subtitled A Walking Tour Through the Crossroads of Our Shopping Culture, which is more descriptive than The Author of Why We Buy on the Geography of Shopping. Underhill takes us on a walk through the mall, visiting malls throughout the world, and taking a look at some of the neglected areas of the mall. He brings along different specialists, such as an architect, a visual merchandiser (which used to be called a window dresser, but is now much more than that), and a teenage shopper. He and his guests deconstruct the mall and the mall experience. The tone of the book is conversational and amusing.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the mall is how relatively unplanned it all is. I suppose I thought that every aspect of the mall would have been studied and designed for maximum profit, but Underhill reveals that this is not the case.
The parking lot is haphazard, the restrooms are almost afterthoughts, the mall map is useless, the lighting is inadequate, the outside appearance and entrance are uninspired.
You know how you never see a clock in a mall? I thought that was deliberate, like in the casinos, where you are encouraged to leave the real world behind and forget about mundane things like whether it is day or night. After reading The Call of the Mall, I can safely assume it is not deliberate, just something the designers never even thought of.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By B-Man on February 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Much like Paco Underhill's first book, Why We Buy, this book states what seems so obvious, but really isn't until he talks about it. I must say that my only complaint about the book is that it starts out pretty slow. Even though the first couple of chapters are short, if I didn't have the faith that the rest of the book was going to be worth it, or hadn't read Why We Buy, I doubt that I would have had the persistence to endure the slow beginning.
However, that said, once he starts making certain observations and recommendations, the points are one after another and I found myself needing to highlight almost entire passages or would skim over a passage and find myself needing to go back and read because I would miss the significance of certain passages. At this point, Paco Underhill is at his best. He also shops with various other folks to emphasize the socializing aspect of the mall as the "new town square" that only suburbia is able to provide.
Reading it from a retailer perspective, this book was so full of little tidbits and advice, I found the time spent reading it as worthwhile as any book I have read for purely a work related purpose.
I do not want to give too much of the book away but some of the issues covered are parking in the malls, the location of the malls, the maps in malls, the location of certain departments in department stores or individual stores in the mall and how they fail or succeed in various marketing methods.
I would recommend this book to those who need to see their stores (or mall) with "fresh eyes" but also to anyone interested in the phenomenon of shopping itself.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kate on November 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have not read his first book, but was definitely disappointed with this work. It is an incredibly interesting and valid subject, and yet, Underhill merely superficially skims over the surface of it, with long transcripts of conversation and a barely discernible thesis which tends to meander as a chapter deals with a new subject related to malls.

Essentially, it is hard to know who Underhill is targeting with this work. Is he encouraging consumers to deconstruct mall environments, or illustrating how retailers and developers could improve profit by altering the layout and make up of malls? I get the impression it is the latter, and perhaps this is the reason that the book fails to stimulate, because only a small portion of its readership is likely to be developers/retailers. For this reason, 'The Call of the Mall' reads like an incredibly casual example of the reports he does for companies at good 'ole Envirosell.

Undoubtedly, 'The Call of the Mall' would be better written by an academic. I supposed I wanted cold hard facts, rather than Underhill's subjective observations, irrespective of his footing in retail study. And often, these observations seem somewhat naive and American-centric, particularly in the chapter relating to malls across the world.

Another thing that began to grate on my nerves was Underhill's obvious high esteem for himself and his own talent and wealth. While he balances this with a semblance of humour, it does get annoying. I particularly adored the discussion of a particular Japanese mall, which is near the 'Imperial Hotel' where 'he stays.' Is this meant to be relevant to the narrative or the purpose of the work? I think not. The book is teeming with these kind of discrete but encoded messages.

Overall, a focusless and somewhat boring work, that could have been great with a discernible direction and depth, some actual quantitive facts and less of an emphasis on Underhill's own subjectivities.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By bensmomma on March 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
....but perhaps a bit TOO casual. Paco Underhill follows up on his immensely successful "Why We Buy" with an anthropologist's tour of shopping malls and Americans' obsessions with them.
Underhill is worth his weight in gold to retailers; many of the simple ideas he throws away in this volume would be incredibly useful to shoppers and thus worth money to retailers (for example, clothes displayed shoulder-out on racks are annoying because you can't see what they look like from the front: why not angle them so they can be seen?)
He eventually takes on the longer-term topic of whether malls have a long-term future in the U.S., at least in their current configuration.
Underhill has adopted a casual conversational tone, as though he were chatting to you as his personal companion (or transcribing an audiotape of his thoughts), perhaps in order to make the book enjoyable to read. He succeeds at this readability goal, but the book seems somehwat insubstantial because of it: there's even one chapter that's only a page and a half long, on Aquamassage stores.
As much as I liked this book, I wish he cut some of this trivia out. Like a nosh at the food court, you end up wishing that you'd had a full meal.
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