Leastwise according to Riffkin who in his book ‘The Age of Access’ examines the thesis that the public market is making room for a new concept of human gathering that is embedded in the commercial liaisons and it’s called the shopping centre.
Shopping centres are product of a culture and (allegedly) represent development. It is said that everyone loves to go to the shopping mall. Malls offer simulation of a city. Their fans say that there you’re in position to easily do the shopping, because all the shops are gathered in one place, have fun with a child, play or a live music; there are also playgrounds for children, you can try out bowling, have lunch or dinner, snacks, in passing have a coffee or opt for a cake. On this way you’ll have no problems with parking because you can park for free for even three hours, they add.
For me, such thinking terrifies me, because appears to be that people are generally so mentally limited that they spend much of their life within an area the size of a building block. Sellers who work in such centres for a long period of time, mainly appears to me as some form of a human fish, despite the presence of some strongly artificial sundrenched ladies who also work there. Social interaction is reduced to a minimum, because in such an environment people are self – sufficient with respect to their brains struggling with the processing of large amounts of irrelevant information they receive from the babbling of people, movable and immovable advertising, numerous faces, music, lights and smells. Such bombardment of information’s is so efficient that you quickly become dumb and insensitive to everything that surrounds you. In shopping malls it’s darn difficult to find any characteristic of time. There are no clocks, so you do not know even what time of day is or what the weather conditions are. People do enter in a mall as in a magic box. It didn’t even cross my mind with what to compare the level of ‘placing’ of people in such given program, except in the casinos.
My first shopping mall that I have experienced was in the early 90s of the last century in the United States where I was finishing secondary school. I lived in a well – to – do family and in accordance to the American standards well – to – do, and the budget that was on my personal disposition was quite large for a secondary school student. I lived and behaved in accordance with the family where I lived. They didn’t go to the shopping centres, but they buy in small specialty shops, in addition to the food, which we bought at the supermarket in my neighbourhood, and there are all the supermarkets were large. They played tennis and golf, they were also engaged in humanitarian work, and were members of a variety of indoor sports and other clubs. The reason for this was a typical American thinking that the rich members of the community do not mix with the poor people, explaining this questionable attitude by the fact that it was statistically proved that there was more crime among the poor, and shopping centres were not good in terms of safety because everybody have their free access. What terrified me most is the fact that the mall, as Americans call the shopping centres, is the central place of life of American teenagers. This small return to the past is mentioned here just for the purpose because as I feel like I’m in Croatia, and stimulated by this issue, during the last ten days I was looking at the same picture, only with a delay of 20 years.
At this point it is obviously clear that my position as the author of this essay is rather negatively inclined towards such even growing buildings that we call shopping malls. As for personal preferences objectivity, although the subjectivity is welcomed here, and in some areas it’s desirable, and in order to obtain an accurate picture of this topic, and given the limited time and resources, I‘ve brought together a group of people with whom I spoke on the subject of shopping, and I mostly put questions like:
What do you buy? How much you spend? How much are you income? Do you often pay by cash or by credit card? Would you like to delay your payment?
I also put to them some of the similar questions. Group talk with tea and coffee was very pleasant until I asked them to start running their log of purchases and during a week time write down and describe each of their purchases. For them this seemed like a big obligation, and I had to promise to prepare a dinner in my home for all the members, let’s called them a focus group, and the mentioned socializing we will call ‘(Ignorance) and the culture of food and drink.’ What was promised, it has been done. Now it’s time to introduce to you my dear friends and acquaintances who have helped me in creating this essay, making my focus group the most interesting focus group of the week, take my word for it.
1. Petar who was born in Zagreb, is a nineteen – years old student who lives with his mother and has a solid pocket – money, does not like shopping centres, but regularly goes to the Arena Centre to socialize with friends and watch films in which he thinks it’s the best cinema around and has a large parking lot. In the same centre he occasionally buys when he is out with his girlfriend. He often buys online, mostly books, software, some CD or DVD or the Nike tennis shoes for he knows all the numbers and sizes, and in Croatia don’t arrive all of the models.
2. Marijana, also from Zagreb, is 26 years of age, Master of Pharmacy, employed, lives with her parents, they have no loans, and their home income is about 25 000 HRK. She loves shopping centres, most of all, the Arena Centre, because they keep the shops she likes (Zara, H&M), a great little Oriental cuisine restaurant Wok & Roll and bowling. She always pays visits to the Arena Centre together with her boyfriend or her friend, at least once a week. Sometimes she buys online if she stumbles on an item that she likes very much and presently, such in Zagreb is not available.
3. Ante, who moved from Dalmatia less than two years ago, is a graduated economist, 28 years of age, employed. He lives as a single and his income amounts 8 000 HRK. The most important thing for him is to always secure a parking space, for the shops need to be all in one place, to buy food there and see are the some of the interesting new clothes have arrive yet; to take a walk, go window shopping, meets someone, take a cup of coffee or eat some ice cream. Most often he goes alone to the shopping centre, and when she goes with his girlfriend they usually go to the movies or bowling. He doesn’t buy online, except airplane tickets, pays hotel accommodation and similar services. All the clothes or footwear that he purchased, he prefers to feel by himself.
4. Marko, the event manager, 28 years of age, has moved from the Dalmatian hinterland, and lives in the community with his girlfriend and her child. Monthly household income amounts 12 000 HRK, and they pay their loan for an apartment and a car. He does not like shopping centres, – he almost never visits them, unless his friends call him to go to the movies; he visits Branimir Centre. All what he buys, he buys mainly in the city centre shops, he adores Dolac market, and for him it isn’t hard to pay a visit to some of the specialized shops anywhere in the city, if he knows the shop is a quality one. He sometimes buys online, mostly drinks, household necessities and books.
5. Iva, 34, an unemployed mother of four children, lives with an employed husband and their household income amounts 5 500 HRK, and except for a car loan to the bank, ‘she is bound to God and the Devil’, says Iva. She has not bought anything on – line, but she said she would not know what to do and meet end if there wasn’t instalment payments.
6. Sanja, 38 years of age, employed, live with the child and her husband on the first floor of the family home in Croatian Zagorje. Monthly household income reaches 16 000 HRK; they are not bound to any loan. They grow fruits and vegetables by themselves, as most of the animals, and what they do not have; they buy from their neighbours, so they go shopping only to fetch clothing and footwear by weekends. With her friend she goes, as she put it ‘to plunder’, and with her family on a full day trip. She exclusively purchases goods in the City Centre, but ‘she is very much afraid to buy anything on – line’, as she once admitted to me, she was so afraid because of a possibility of ‘stealing her identity or money.’
7. Branko, 49, lives with his wife, they are both employed and their home income amounts about 12 000 HRK, they have a loan for their apartment and a car. Very rarely they buy clothes or shoes; they mostly prefer to shop at the Bauhaus and Pevec, and when he buys food he goes to the Metro or to Billa. Sometimes he went with his wife to some shopping centre to take a walk, mostly at the time around Christmas, ‘only to see what is on offer and only if his wife forced him to go because of some discount coupon.’ He does not know what his favourite shopping centre is and says that all of them look the same to him. He mostly purchased goods with cash, because he does not like to feel indebted if there is no need to do so. He doesn’t shop online: he has no trust in such a way of purchasing nor he is skilled with the computer.
8. Vlasta, 54 years of age, unemployed, her husband is a pensioner. She loves to go to the shopping centres because once she has found herself in, she feels alive, as she put it. She do not need to buy anything because she has no money, but she does enjoy watching windows and shops especially if the applications on offer are related to the home, such as small pieces of furniture, small household appliances, things for redecoration of home and similar things. She loves all the shopping centres, particularly City Centre, mostly at weekends when it is full of people. Only then she feels the dynamics and locomotion, and all that murmur, music from the shops, and the entire people walking around her seem to her to be happy. She has never purchased anything online, and she has no computer.
9. Vlasta is a pensioner of 65 years of age, with slight disability, lives with her daughter, and the household incomes are larger then 20 000 HRK. She has no loan. She truly believes that the shopping centres are ‘attractive, as it can be, especially during the week when there are no crowds, and you can peacefully buy anything you need.’ She mostly prefers Arena Centre, because it has a large garage, then Interspar where she buys her food, which is also very roomy, so she manages to get by with a full shopping trolley and her crutches, which must put down when she decided to sit down and have a coffee with a friend. To the Arena Centre she goes once or twice a week and each time she stays around 90 to 120 minutes. Although she has acquired good computer skills, and she has already bought some services on – line, she doesn’t like to buy any kind of goods using Internet.
Once I’ve finished talking with all the chosen candidates, I selected Iva and Sanja, and with each one of them I decided to go shopping.
First, Iva begins her story: ‘I do not like shopping centres, but I’ve chosen the City Centre One, due to purchases of the home stuff, because of Miller, the washing powder and fabric softener. Ariel there is no good when compared to those from Interspar or Konzum, and Softlan softener is of my choice. I’ve got used to go there, because this one was the closest. If I had more money, I would also buy gifts and goods there, but now I buy only for the children.
In general, these shopping centres are not good, because I always lose a lot of time there, even if it seems like it is all in one place so I think I’ll be faster, but I always do better when I go directly to a store in Ilica (she lives in Črnomerec) and buy just that what I need, because in principle, on discount I buy two products, but in fact I do not need any of them.’
By changing her face cross – looking and with a lot of disapproval she then continues: ‘I’m all bundle of nerves when I’m in these centres, because of all this bloody and crazy techno music and the like in these shops that makes me crazy; they are so loud that I cannot hear my own thoughts. All those lights give me a headache and I become mad but if I was with my children who want this and that, I know that this is the best way that I would quarrel with the first one who cross my way and I would spoil all day and my family shopping. From years of experience (Iva has accumulated 15 years of marital status), I have a rule that I’ll go shopping just in case something I could not find in a small Konzum store on the corner, or older child needs the clothing, and I do it all alone or with a larger kid. I would not go with the small ones unless they need shoes, so should they try them on the spot. Then I’ll go through the week only during the morning hours when there is no one around.
If I had the money that I can spend and unencumbered afford shopping like in the movies, I would be accompanied by a friend and Katarina (her older daughter)’.
Even though I knew the answer, I ask her does she pay by cash or by card, Iva in her style answered: ‘What f ___ ing cash; I’ve never seen live money for years. I do not see it when I pay it with my card because such card I pay off with another one.’
Sanja has a completely different story to tell:
‘Oh, I love to go to such places. There is plenty of everything I have on disposal; I get in a kind of a dream or something. A few hours would pass and you didn’t figure it out how.’ That’s it! Sanja is a typical representative of the majority, so I continued with the questions, whether she paid in cash or by credit cards, with whom she usually goes shopping, and similar questions. I cannot help myself but share with you one of her answers, which beautifully describes such stereotypical woman in which lives a small ‘shopping devil’. I laughed it all day, even though the answer is a little bit sad for several reasons and the way of seeing things: more detailed about that maybe some other time. So says my Sanja: ‘If I go out with the girls, I spend what my husband gave me, and I take out my credit card only if it pop out something important, enough to say, when I find some shoes for that I go completely banana, and would not do without them. If we went out altogether then Boris pays everything (Boris is Sanjin’s husband, author’s note), until he says enough. Sometimes he pays only with cash, another time with the card, but he prefers cash payment.’
Walking alone with two of the abovementioned ladies at the Arena Centre, the City Centre One, and finally the Avenue Mall, I noticed that there is very little conversation, and even among those individuals who had come together. It seems that the family gatherings, having fun with friends and other live experiences have become the primary commercial activity in shopping centres, and the purchase of goods has become a follow up, secondary activity. All the studies have shown that a new generation of smart customers grew up and that today there are less impulsive purchases. It seems to me that proportionally with the growth of smart buyers, there is an evident fall of number of free – thinking people who want to reach depths and contents in their mutual relationships. Besides growing online sales, the purchases are less quantitative, but more qualitative. Together with the financial crisis that is still hopelessly shaking our country’s economy foundations, it is obvious that it is increasingly difficult to sell only some, particular kind of goods to the buyer. We also need to sell the experience to the client and to always think of the added value that the buyer shall get just by buying your product in your particular store or shopping centre. That is why the fight for the customer has become increasingly ferocious.
If we trust the figures of the departments for Public Relations of the City Centre and subsequently the Arena Centre, about 15 000 people passes through the such premises during each week, and during the weekends up to 35 000 people a day, a figure that served PR department of the Arena Centre. Neither the figure of 25 000 to 30 000 people that flows during one day of the weekend through the City Centre One is certainly no less significant. In that crowd of people, unfortunately, we can find a many of those that has culturally been lost.
After this task, I have just reminded myself why I dread shopping centres. I would not change my weekly trip to the market for nothing in the world. Talk with the peasant – sellers is irreplaceable experience. Shop in my neighbourhood is well equipped with the consumer’s goods and clothing and footwear I also buy targeted, so the shops in the city centre are still my preferred choice. Because of some of the good pastry shops or restaurants I’d be happy to take a ride across the town and then walk a part of the way, because I did not find parking nearby. And even though everything is not on disposition only in one place, I’ll do the shopping faster than these people who drift or at least formally wander through the huge shopping malls. If I want to socialize with my family or my friends, my priority is to go out in nature, but if the weather turns ugly I will gladly replace such trip by socializing at my home. At this gathering we’ll talk, laugh loud, hug and generally show a lot of emotion. In people, I’m looking after their character, their distinctiveness, depth and freedom. There will never be such things in the shopping centres. There apply some other laws.
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