October 24, 2017 - mh9868a

Literature Review: “Get in Loser, We’re Going Shopping”: How Shopping Complexes Affect the Socio-Economics of a Town


For my essay, I am interested in exploring the socio-economic effects a shopping complex has on the community in which it is built. Understanding the complex relationship between shopping centers and their towns can help developers and local politicians decide if building a mall is truly right for their community. Therefore, in my literature review I would like to go deeper into my research on the history of malls in North America and how North American malls affect the financial and social makeup of a town including the idea of social culture around shopping malls and the economic and social effects malls have on the towns in which they are built. Furthermore, I wish to investigate if large shopping malls are still as economically and socially beneficial for towns as they once were. Basically, I want to ask, how do shopping complexes socio-economically affect the towns in which they are located? Finally, I will take the answer to that question and apply it to the Tuscan Village complex currently being built in Salem, NH.

To answer the question of the socio-economic effects of shopping malls, it is necessary to first ask about the continuity and discontinuity in several schools of thought other scholars have found on the subject of shopping malls. For example, the social stature of malls has changed significantly in the past few decades. Because of the social change in the role of malls, new economic functions for malls have changed as well. Also, it is important to understand the history of shopping malls in America to better understand the role they play in society both in the past and today. Therefore, the three schools of thought that need investigating are the historical, social, and economic impacts of shopping malls in America.

A History of Malls in America

Consumerism in America really took off in the early twentieth century because of a rise in popularity of department stores like Sears. Then, at the end of World War Two (WWII), the United States went into another consumerist boom because of an increase in mass production. In his article, “Consuming Questions: Scholarship on Consumerism in America to 1940,” Tom Pendergast argues that the United States was always a consumerist culture, but there were booms and busts in consumer cycles. So when credit first became popular in the 1920s, consumerism was very high, but fell when the Great Depression hit. Many Americans were unemployed and no money to spend on necessities, let alone unnecessary goods. Then, after WWII and the increase in mass production, shopping became a popular hobby again, and consumerism was popular again for many years. As a result of WWII, people had more money in their pockets and could afford to go shopping as a social event with friends or family. As shopping became more popular after WWII, more malls were built across the country to keep up with demand. In his book, Dollars and Cents of Shopping Centers, Glenn W. Buzzard argues that shopping centers have changed over time because of new features often added to a shopping center. These features include food courts, parking lots and garages, and retail rental space. These additions were necessary as more people were going to malls and spending more time at malls. Therefore, as time has past not only have malls increased in popularity, but also they have increased significantly in size. These changes in malls over time created the image of a mall everyone thinks of today. Both of these writers agree that the history of malls evolved over time and adapted to the consumer norms of the different time periods. Most writers in the field, including the scholars Buzzard and Pendergast cited, agree with their findings. Therefore, there is much continuity in this school of thought. Overall, the history of shopping malls in America has changed over time, yet the history established the future social and economic impact of shopping malls in America.

Social Impact of Malls

As previously mentioned, malls in America used to be the social epicenter of towns. However, with the dawn of online shopping and the rising popularity of Amazon, today they are often overlooked as good social spots. In fact, in their essay called, “When Planning Fails: Downtown Malls in Mid-Size Cities,” Pierre Filion and Karen Hammond argue that building malls in the center of town does not make the mall a town’s hotspot. That is, malls cannot function as town centers anymore because of their declining popularity. Furthermore, the authors argue that malls do not have the allure they once had decades ago, thus malls do not generate large crowds anymore. There are several reasons that malls could be losing popularity they once enjoyed. As mentioned, the more obvious explanation for the decline of malls is the rise of online shopping. Filion and Hammond explain that many consumers find online shopping to be easier and more convenient for today’s lifestyle. In fact, may big retail stores like Walmart now offer free grocery pick up when customers order their groceries online. In fact, in their article, “Measuring Consumer Perceptions of Online Shopping Convenience,” Ling Jiang, Zhilin Yang, and Minjoon Jun argue that convenience is the primary reason so many people now prefer online shopping. Basically, nobody wants to take the time to go to the grocery store anymore, and people certainly do not want to walk around the mall for an hour either. Jiang, Tang, and Jun write that the convenience of online retailers such Amazon are isolating malls. However, not every source I have read argues that malls are no longer the center of social culture in mid-size towns.

While Filion and Hammond argue that shopping malls are no longer a social town center, other scholars argue that the mall is still a very socially influential figure. More specifically, in his article, “Determinants of Shopping Behavior of Urban Consumers,” Rajagopal argues that shopping malls influence the social behavior of consumers shopping that particular mall. That is, there are some factors in the design and location of shopping malls that can have effects on consumer behavior while they shop. For example, some of these factors include mall location and the type of shopping consumers are participating in. Perhaps the rise of online shopping is not the only reasons for the shopping mall’s decline. In their essay called, “The Impact of Perceived Similarity to Other Customers on Shopping Mall Satisfaction,” Hyorkjin Kwon, Sejin Ha, and Hyunjoo Im argue that customer satisfaction at American shopping malls is related to the disconnected social company of other shoppers. That is, they argue that the social atmosphere of stores can influence the behavior of shoppers in certain stores. Also, Kwon’s, Ha’s, and Hyunjoo’s findings that shopping malls are connected to social behavior is similar to Rajagopal’s finding. Thus, these scholars’ findings are conducive to findings of other scholars in this specific field of research.

So, maybe malls are declining for reasons other than the rise of online shopping. On one hand, like Jiang wrote, many people just like the convenience of being able to shop from work or home. Also, some people live increasingly busy lives and find it difficult to make a trip to the store every time they need something, so Amazon is a good option for them. On the other hand, some scholars argue that the mall is still a relevant part of society. As Kwon and Rajagopal found, some people still enjoy malls, but the overall social atmosphere of malls is changing. Overall though, there is discontinuity in the argument about whether or not malls are still a center of social society.

Economic Impacts of Malls

Along with having some social impact on communities, malls often have major economic impact in their locations as well. Sometimes the social changes of malls cause the economic makeup of a mall to change. If a mall used to be the center of social life in town, but it loses popularity, then the center of economic revenue for the town has also been compromised. In an attempt to reverse this cycle, in his essay called, “From Main Street to the Governor’s Office,” Ray Watson argues that economic development is an important part of a town center’s revitalization. That is, the broken down mall at the center of Windcrest, Texas was rebuilt to once again become the center of life in Windcrest. According to Watson, the mall broke down because of the decline in consumers willing to physically go to malls. The unfortunate decline in popularity of the shopping mall in Windcrest is coherent with Filion’s and Hammond’s findings in their investigation into the modern centrality of shopping malls. However, Watson goes on to explain that the Wincrest mall is getting a makeover. More specifically, the mall is being rebuilt so that it can be restored as the center of life in Windcrest. Basically, the economic development for the revitalization of the Windcrest Malls shows that shopping centers can still be the centers of social life in towns. Also, Watson’s article showed that building shopping malls can have a huge economic impact because they can be very expensive for the state. The revitalization of this mall, like other malls across the country, will inevitably have a large budget which will cost the community and the state a lot of money in increased taxes. Thus, building a new mall, or revitalizing an old one, is an economic burden on the state and community in which the mall is built.  

Watson’s findings that shopping malls influence the economics of town in which they are built is in agreement with other scholars in his field. For example, in his article, “The Economics of Shopping Mall Security,” Kenneth Button argues that a large part of the economics of shopping malls is the cost of security in place to protect consumers. That is, the cost of security at malls is a major part of the financial upkeep of shopping centers, especially after 9/11. Therefore, security costs are an important element when deciding to build a new shopping center because those costs will accumulate for the entire time the mall is in business. Thus, making a mall today is even more expensive than it was when shoping malls were in their prime in the 1980s and 1990s. Overall, Button’s findings that the cost of security in malls greatly contributes to the overall economics of a shopping mall is in coherence with Watson’s article. That is, both articles stipulate that shopping malls can have significant economic effects on the towns in which they are built. Furthermore, in his essay called, “Is There a Business Component in Shopping Mall Revenue,” Mark Kenney argues that shopping malls affect town taxes because of the size and cost of the retail property of malls. That is, the taxes attributed to shopping malls based on commercial property value can affect the income of the mall. Basically, if the cost of the commercial property the shopping mall is built on is worth more money than the mall is generating, it can cause serious financial problems for the mall owner and the town. His findings are also similar to the findings of Watson and Button which say that the building of malls has effects on the economics of the town in which the shopping malls are built. So, overall there is much continuity in the field of research on the economic impact of shopping malls in towns.


The findings for the different schools of thought analyzed above help me to begin thinking critically about my topic of the socio-economics of shopping malls in North America. That is, analyzing the historical, social, and economic schools of thought surrounding malls is important for understanding a mall’s function in modern society. The history and evolution of malls over the past century really gives insight into how malls functioned in society in the past compared to how malls function in society today. Also, understanding the social impact of malls on American communities helps me understand why malls are still around in the age of online shopping. Finally, analyzing the economic impact malls have on their communities helps me understand why one would want to be built or revitalized even in the modern, internet-centric world. Overall, the sources analyzed above clarify the importance of each school of thought when it comes to the socio-economic impact and roles malls play in today’s society.

These findings have helped my research become more broad and and more detailed. Researching these schools of thought forced me to really think about what I wanted to include in my research, and what I would leave out. Choosing these schools of thought will benefit my research because they allow me to gain insight into how malls work both socially and economically both today and in the past. Hopefully, my research can add another, more specific case of socio-economics to the subject of shopping malls by applying this information to the new Tuscan Village shopping center currently being built in Salem, NH.




Button, Kenneth. “The Economics of Shopping Mall Security.” Journal of Transportation Security; Norwell 1, no. 2 (June 2008): 127–39. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12198-007-0011-7.

Buzzard, Glen W. Dollars and Cents of Shopping Centers. Washington, D.C: The Urban Institute, 1984.

Fey, Tina. Mean Girls. DVD. Directed by Mark Waters. Toronto: Paramount Pictures, 2004.

Filion, Pierre, and Karen Hammond. “When Planning Fails: Downtown Malls in Mid-Size Cities.” Canadian Journal of Urban Research 17, no. 2 (Winter 2008): 1–27.

Jiang, Ling, Zhilin Yang, and Minjoon Jun. “Measuring Consumer Perceptions of Online Shopping Convenience.” Journal of Service Management 24, no. 2 (September 2013): 191–214.

Kenney, Mark T. “Is There a Business Component in Shopping Mall Revenue?” Assessment Journal 3, no. 5 (October 9, 1996): 45.

Kwon, Hyorkjin, Sejin Ha, and Hyunjoo Im. “The Impact of Perceived Similarity to Other Customers on Shopping Mall Satisfaction.” Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 28, no. Supplement C (January 1, 2016): 304–9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jretconser.2015.01.004.

Pendergast, Tom. “Consuming Questions: Scholarship on Consumerism in America to 1940.” American Studies International 36, no. 2 (1998): 23–43.

Rajagopal. “Determinants of Shopping Behavior of Urban Consumers.” Journal of International Consumer Markets, January 28, 2011, 83–104.

Watson, Ray, and Christopher Shields. “From Main Street to THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE.” Economic Development Journal 7, no. 1 (Winter 2008): 32–37.


Essays / SIS Research Project culture / economics / history / literature / malls / shoppingmalls / socioeconomics /

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