The Rise of the Surgical Shopper

The Rise of the Surgical Shopper

Anne D'Innocenzio, AP Business Writers
Rachel Beck, AP Business Writers

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) — Think of the Mall of America as the Colosseum of American consumerism: It has more than 500 shops, 50 eateries and its own theme park, complete with an indoor roller-coaster.
And now it, too, seems a symbol of a bygone era.

Some 40 million people still visit each year. But many are like Michelle Hoppe of New London, Minn. She drove two hours to spend just $100 at three stores - Bath & Body Works, Victoria's Secret and a toy store.

Three years ago, she says, she would show up with a "pocketful of cash" and pop in and out of stores all over the mall. "We would just spend," says Hoppe, 45, who works as a home health aide.

The days when shopping was a leisure activity unto itself are over, at the nation's largest shopping center and beyond. Americans are being precise in how they shop, regardless of what they are buying.

They're visiting fewer stores, checking off their lists and walking away. They're spending fewer minutes online when they shop. They aren't stockpiling food or clothes.

Shoppers today visit an average of three stores during a trip to the mall, according to ShopperTrak, a Chicago research firm that tracks sales and customer counts at more than 70,000 stores. That compares with an average of five stores in 2006.

Inside stores, there's evidence that impulse buys are on the decline. Stores are messier because people dump so much merchandise before they check out, says Paco Underhill. His company, Envirosell, studies how consumers behave in stores.

It's "surgical shopping," says John Gerzema, a brand executive at advertising and marketing firm Young & Rubicam, and co-author of a new book about the changing ways we spend money.
The shift is greatest among low-income Americans.

You can see it during the wee hours of the morning on the first day of each month. That's when government assistance electronically drops into debit cards of millions of Americans. So they line up to get the basics just after midnight, a scene that's increasingly common across the country. Stores that close overnight report crowds first thing in the morning.