Plumb Lines

August 5, 2009

The Downfall of Bricks and Mortar?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael E. van Landingham @ 10:26 am

No, not by earthquakes, but by the Internet. I started thinking about this recently after an uneventful trip to the local mall. First I looked at the prices on the Internet, but I figured that with shipping I’d be better off buying from the store. Plus we would have the merchandise right away and would finally own our own sheets. This wasn’t the case, though.

After a 30 minute drive, eight mile drive through Baltimore’s sprawl I arrived at the mall. It took maybe half an hour to wander around the department store and find the bedding and kitchenwares for which I was shopping. Then I had to get ahold of a clerk for a final item and go through the hassle of check-out. All that only to find out that each item was $2-4 more than the Internet sale prices on the store’s website. So with the higher prices and state and local sales taxes I ended up paying about $8 more, in addition to spending an hour on the road and 45 minutes in the store. Lastly, I still had to purchase a few items from the Internet anyway because the store didn’t have some things in stock.

I knew what I wanted, and if I had used the Internet I could have checked out in five minutes and waited just a few days to get it. Instead I wasted time, fuel, and money going to the actual location. The Internet is far more convenient— there’s no way around that. I have never liked malls, and this adventure confirms why. People try to sell you things you don’t want; they are crowded, confusing, and far away from urban centers. Besides, one can price-compare and get reviews on the Internet, whereas bricks-and-mortar locations only have pushy sales people.

As the American public becomes more comfortable with buying on-line, will there be a need for malls anymore? The Amazon model is more efficient in every way for consumer and business, save for getting the item immediately. Given the recent decline in commercial real estate the era of the mall and big-box stores may be coming to a close. The unsightly, poorly located architectural black holes would vanish, and with the the over-development that tarnishes our countryside, creating a much more scenic suburban environment.

Michael E. van Landingham



  1. And yet Walmart is thriving more than ever. Perhaps malls will just cede to more and more inclusive superstores.

    Comment by Suzanne vL — August 5, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

  2. This is a good point, Suzanne. Though urbanists tend to excoriate both in one breath, malls and big box stores represent opposing models of suburban retail. The mall gestures towards the city, especially at the margins where developers create multi-storey freestanding structures connected by pedestrianized boulevards where the shopper may encounter public performances, sculpture, etc, surrounding by oceans of parking. The big box store, on the other hand, is more like a tethered internet site. The two-dimensional facades of big-box stores resemble nothing so much as corporate websites.

    Comment by David Schaengold — August 5, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

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