Smartphones are helping kill the mall

Have you heard? America's mega shopping malls are on the decline. The latest figures reveal that about one-fourth of the malls-of-yore left in the country will go the way of the Dodo within the next five years. But is anyone surprised? With the proliferation of so many at-your-door delivery services and online shopping rates at their highest, it appears that the modern way to window shop is with your smartphone.

Granted, there actually are a host of other reasons why shopping malls are no longer a Great American Staple, including the fact that many retailers have simply ceased operations. But I still can't help but wonder if the reason fewer people make it to the store is that there is simply no need when everything can be accessed at the push of a button.

You don't even have to talk to anyone

Get yourself a new patio set without having to set up a creepy meeting.

Get yourself a new patio set without having to set up a creepy meeting.

I'm so anxious to get started on remodeling, that I've taken to spending my evenings on the Galaxy Tab S3 looking for furniture in the Wayfair (opens in new tab) app, and "trying it on" in my living room with the included silly camera effect. It's easier than driving across town to the nearest furniture outlet to look at what's on display or having to endure IKEA, and I can do this all from the comfort of my home without the pressure of a salesperson breathing down my neck to buy something.

I'm not just looking at new furniture though — I'm open to bringing in a second-hand piece through Letgo (opens in new tab) if it's something that might match my decor. I haven't had much success with the app yet, but I like the idea of being able to buy and sell used items without the prevailing creepiness of a service like Craigslist. I want to see what the item is that I'm buying before I bother leaving the house, and I want that person to be traceable. I'm also considering using Letgo to put up a love seat for sale since all it requires is snapping a photo with my Pixel XL to post it in the virtual classifieds.

There are, of course, already a number of very popular, robust shopping apps that we've become accustomed to using, including Amazon, eBay, and Overstock. We also have other apps making their way to the top of the shopping charts — new virtual storefronts if you will — with an attempt at coercing us toward new shopping habits. Why bother thrifting, for instance, if you can search for a used designer threads through an app like threadUP (opens in new tab) without leaving your couch? And who needs the expertise of a shopping assistant at Nordstrom when Polyvore (opens in new tab) offers the ability to piece together entire outfits and find the best deals, without the obvious attempt at an upsell?

Shopping apps offer one-touch access to some of the biggest online bazaars in the world.

Shopping apps offer one-touch access to some of the biggest online bazaars in the world.

One thing's for sure: the ability to procure stuff has become easier than ever.

Shopping apps aren't perfect, and there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn't just download any app that pops up in the Google Play Store. Many also don't offer any help when it comes to visualizing how the tangible thing looks in your world, so it's likely that until the idea of shopping with augmented reality becomes a mainstream habit, brick and mortar stores will have to exist to cater to a particular shopper. I could also see retail storefronts becoming the next "collector's items," or so to speak, the way that books have. Sure, you can read the text with your mobile device, but if you want something that's special, you can pay a bit extra for the collector's edition and display it in your home. In this way, I imagine that visiting a retail store will one day be reserved special occasions, which is the way my personal shopping habits have slowly morphed.

One thing's for sure: the ability to procure stuff has become easier than ever. We're literally carrying online bazaars in our pockets with access to the biggest and best storefronts that exist. Our next challenge, as consumers, is to choose the ones worth keeping around. Perhaps rather than continuing on our path of rampant consumerism, we scale it back a bit and refocus on supporting quality brands that aren't just hawking light-up fidget spinners.

Lead image from by way of Pexels.

Florence Ion

Florence Ion was formerly an editor and columnist at Android Central. She writes about Android-powered devices of all types and explores their usefulness in her everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter or watch her Tuesday nights on All About Android.

  • Malls been dying for years. High cost and low selection . It's now just accelerate the process.
  • With this model, it will surely help people "hide out" and become hermits. I like going to the mall and walking from store to store amongst all of the people.
    I admit that I do shop from my computer, not so much my cell phone. But overall, I prefer in person mall shopping.
  • One of the main reasons for going to a mall used to be product exposure. That was balanced against the obvious overhead of the mall embedded in the price of everything there. There's no need to visit the mall for product exposure anymore as you can find everything online along with ratings, reviews, etc.
  • As an introvert I'm glad, I never did like the mall.
  • The other huge selling point of a mall was always the social aspect of it, especially for teenagers, young adults and young parents. There are 100 other ways to be involved with your social group now that involve your phone and no more physical presence than a meeting at Starbucks. At the most.
  • You obviously aren't a teenager.
  • I'm not a teen and yet I agree. Kids still go to the mall to meet but the desire to be there is diminishing. I have teenagers and they do desire to shop at malls but the desire to be at one is not the same as in the past. They would be just receiving the desired item in the mail.
  • Shame cuz one nice thing about the mall was I'd get to touch the product and check it out before actually buying it. Having to mail something back because I don't like it sorta defeats the convenience of ordering it online.
  • Your UPS, FedEx, USPS, other shipping company don't have at home return mail pickup?
  • It takes days. Why buy something online when I can buy it in the store and touch it and try it on?
  • I still do it that way. The only things I will buy online are something like a T-shirt or a hat. Pants, shirts, coats, shoes I want to see and touch before I buy.
  • That's what technology does. The mall used to be a place to shop meet with friends go to the arcade and maybe catch a movie if the mall had a movie theater. Well that's what I did when I was a teenager and young adult. Honestly I'm sort of glad I'm not a teenager or young adult now. I was too independent I'd like to be left alone sometimes. With phones and social media everybody knows your business where you're at where you going. Okay I'll shut up and stop my old fart rant...oh wait, get off my lawn!!!!!
  • Perhaps you 'do IKEA' wrong. You should indulge in Swedish meatballs or a salmon wrap, salad and a cup of coffee. Relax. Enjoy. :)
  • I still cannot buy my clothes or jewelry online. There are going to be things that need to be tried on or seen 1st before purchase and that can't be done online. IMHO
  • I agree in part especially with something unknown. But if you're already familiar with say a certain clothing then no problem (ex. I know exactly the Tommy John's or Roundtree and Yorke shorties I need/want). Jewelry you're on your own though, I don't buy in to that societal claptrap. :)
  • I guess you fall into a regular size of clothing. For me as a tall lady, the only solid way I can get dress pants is online. Going to a store in person for that is a great way for me to waste my time. I take the chance with jeans but thankfully I don't need to replace those much. Same deal with shoes. To go to the stores and "hope" to find my size, is something I wasted my later teen years in doing. Now, I just go online to the vendors that sell shoes in my size, order what I want and I'm done.
  • Maybe AR will solve that
  • One of the main reasons I shop online is because when I go to the mall I'm constantly bombarded by annoying sales associates trying to sell me something I don't need....I just want to get in, look at what's there, buy it if I want it, and get out.....I usually don't need help, and if I do, I'll ask.... But you can't walk in a Macy's or a forever 21 without someone begging to help you.... And the sad part is they don't work for commission so I don't see where the ascentive is
  • Because the one person who walked in to Macy's and wasn't helped within 30 seconds leaves a review on Google tearing the store apart.
  • Never had that issue.......The incentive is that's called customer service.
  • The incentive is asset protection. They are also supposed to be helping you, but a large part of greeting the customer is also designed to help prevent theft. It makes the customer aware of store employees.
  • I still love going to the mall to walk around, see products in person, and socialize with friends but it's the prices that keep me from buying.
  • The mail's not dead. Just the jcpenny, Sears, etc.. catalogues. For that, all mailmen love the internet.
  • Nothing wrong with JC Penney. They've actually expanded
  • Bummer, I buy a lot online, but I prefer getting most things in store.
  • Whoops, read it wrong. Malls are dying, though. The internet has made some a ghost town. They're only used for gift cards now.
  • Every time I go to my local Walmart, it instantly reminds me why I love Amazon from the moment I get to the parking lot, and it only goes downhill from there. I stopped going to malls a looong time ago, almost completely. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've been in a proper mall in the last 20 years.
  • I've been saying it for years that malls, shopping center​s etc will be no more in the very near future as the amount of things we can order online and have it the next day is crazy, but I do like to try my clothes on so I know they exactly fit me which is something you just can't do online unless your buying trainers etc so once they can implement​ some type of size VR fitting room I'll proceed to buy my clothes at the mall or in-store​ just for now lol
  • Long live the mall
  • I don't think so. Well it shouldent. Lets say I sell football jerseys, real n.f.l. gear. Yes I could sell the products out of my apartment but the mall venue is more secure and I don't have pallets of junk I'll never use eating space in my little apartment like Heavey games on my j3 and so long as you dont run it like geek gerage hear in cheyenne wy you might stand a chance
  • The only time I liked going to the mall was when I was a kid and arcades were king (yeah predating myself I guess). Other than that...
    When it comes down to it, I've grown to virtually hate dealing with the public, period. After a long 12 hr. day of dealing with the public at work, the last thing I want to do is having to interact with more.
    Besides, with perks that you receive from Amazon Prime or the online services from companies like Best Buy, you can do home shipping and free returns.
  • Where are we going to play Pokemon Go now?
  • I see what you did there, we'll played well played. :)
  • Yes, stay home on the couch and get fat.
  • What happens when all those people working retail no longer have jobs? Also, prices won't be so great online once there is no brick and motor competition and there are thousands more out of work leading to less demand. I'm a free market capitalist but I do worry about the economic impacts of this trend.
  • Those employees can go work at an Amazon warehouse or go back to school and be a rocket scientist. Also, the more things that are sold online, the more competition, you got it all wrong.
  • Not necessarily. Amazon is very large. It can easily kill any competition
  • Opry Mills mall still seems to have 25,000 people there at peak times.
  • Yep, that's what Nashville needed, yet another mall, instead of the kick ass amusement park to take your family to that they built Opry Mills on top of. If only there were some other malls in the area. /S
  • I was never a mall shopper for the simple reason prices were always higher due to the cost to rent space. Consumers are looking for sales and deals before they pull the trigger and make a purchase.
  • Grandmothers around the nation are now getting up to walk around their smartphones instead of doing their laps around the mall. Orange Julius hardest hit.
  • Malls kill themselves by their own decisions. Overpriced goods and poor service (such as rather limited open hours) are self-destructive decisions made by the malls and the shop owners, not cell-phone users.
  • Agreed. Our local mall is about half empty, and I've talked to a few employees when the stores were shutting down. Most of them have said that the rent was so high, they weren't making any money. They're charging a premium because you supposedly get more foot traffic from adjacent stores, but if there aren't any adjacent stores, then you lose that benefit and increased business. I hope it holds on and someone with a brain starts to run the place, but I don't see it happening. Right now Rural King, Dunham's, JC Penney's, and Texas Roadhouse are the only stores keeping it open. We lost:
    A Movie Theater (digital projectors are expensive, and they didn't turn enough profit)
    Sears (their own fault really, but I'll miss the mowers/tools),
    Bon Ton (they did suck too),
    Dick's (they opened up a massive store, and are somehow saving money over mall rent),
    Garfield's (shutdown without notice),
    Chuck E. Cheese (f^$king Dollar Tree bought out their lease, my son cried over that one...),
    FYE (I didn't shop there a lot, but they had prices comparable to Amazon on some cell accessories)
    Rite-Aid (Shut down the mall store, opened up across the street in a massive new building, somehow saved money)
    The Rite-Aid one really sucks, because I could drop off a script, and walk the mall with the kids while I waited. It was a nice experience. The mall screwed up letting them go. I think my mall visits dropped 50% with that one, I'm sure I'm not alone. FYI, if you want a real, throw back to the 80s mall experience, go to the Cranberry Mall in Pennsylvania near Seneca and Franklin (NOT Cranberry Twp closer to Pittsburgh) They have a lot of closed stores also, but that place was built in the 80s and never overhauled. I love it. They even still have a Sears, lol. And a movie theater that doesn't suck!
  • Funny how for years they were fine.
  • For those of you with way too much time on your hands and like watching people walk slowly though rooms: This guy gets paid to video document malls that are dead or dying a slow death. He has walked through a few that I had been to in the 80's & 90's that are now closed or closing. Sad in a way.
  • HellingTrakker said: "What happens when all those people working retail no longer have jobs? Also, prices won't be so great online once there is no brick and motor competition and there are thousands more out of work leading to less demand. I'm a free market capitalist but I do worry about the economic impacts of this trend." "All those people" find something they are good at and work at new jobs. Your question doesn't need to be asked. There's a reason why we don't have generations of unemployed horse-buggy makers left over from 1902. " Also, prices won't be so great online once there is no brick and motor competition and there are thousands more out of work leading to less demand" Again, not true for two reasons
    1`) there will be, as there is now, competition online
    2) there won't be "Thousands more out of work" unless people are lazy and loaf at home instead of find new jobs as unnecessary retail jobs dry up. No reason to worry.
  • "Because the one person who walked in to Macy's and wasn't helped within 30 seconds leaves a review on Google tearing the store apart." That will teach the store to be understaffed! And the ones understaffed at registers need harsh one-star reviews until they stop the problem of large numbers of unmanned registers and long lines of waiting customers at the few that are open. Retailers who get the basics of customer service wrong (Serve the customers!) are killing themselves.
  • Flo, we need Smartmalls.
  • As long as you use the word "helping." Malls have been on decline for a lot longer than smartphones have affected our shopping habits in a big way. Even longer than Amazon has been a factor.
  • Go to the mall to check it out, then buy it online from someone else for a fair price. Waiting for Amazon to release dash buttons for plain shirt, plaid shirt, random shirt, etc. Gimme shurts! *spill hotdog sauce & supersize coke on self*
  • You mean a store with overhead? Keep in mind, competition is good. Once malls die prices will go up