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Shopping as Entertainment
When the Bluewater shopping center in Kent advertises itself as 'the most innovative and exciting shopping and leisure destination in Europe today' (Bluewater website) it is reflecting a widespread and highly significant trend. For many contemporary large-scale shopping centers, leisure and entertainment are as important as, and are thoroughly integrated with, their retail activities. The combining of shopping with entertainment has been recognized in the cumbersome term 'shoppertainment' (Lamancusa). Thus the MetroCentre in Gateshead invites its visitors to 'Uncover the world of shoppertainment at the Centre' (MetroCentre website); Sawgrass Mills Mall at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, boasts that it 'features almost 2 miles of "Shoppertainment" (SawgrassMills web site); the Madrid Xanadu center is promoted by its U.S. owners with the slogan 'Shoppertainment heads to Europe' (Madrid Xanadu web site). Indeed, the Mills Corporation, the American developer behind Sawgrass Mills, Madrid Xanadu and many other such enterprises, registered the term 'Shoppertainment' as a trade mark in 2001. The benefits of the 'shoppertainment' approach are clear: it encourages customers and potential customers to come to the mall instead of going somewhere else, to spend longer there, to spend more money there than they might otherwise have done, and to come back again.
So, if 'Creating an entertaining in-store environment that delights and encourages repeat visits and planned spending at each visit is what retail brands and consumer products companies in Europe are increasingly aiming to do' (Stewart-Allen), what does the blending of shopping and entertainment involve? Where do the promoters of 'shoppertainment' believe the entertainment of shopping lies? The phenomenon of shopping as entertainment is not in itself a new thing. During the nineteenth century the new department and chain stores sought to encourage custom by providing for shopping itself to be a pleasurable experience; appealing particularly to bourgeois women, shops capitalized on the attractions and facilities of the urban environment of which they were part, benefited from modern transport networks and technologies such as elevators and electric lighting - which 'served to transform department stores into city centre evening magnets' (Lancaster, p. 51) - and drew in custom with restaurants and other facilities that made shopping a social experience and an entertainment and a leisure activity rather than a chore. In the Victorian era, as Erika Rappaport has written, shopper might have lunch out, take a break for tea, and visit a club, museum, or the theater. Shopping also involved discussing, looking at, touching, buying, and rejecting commodities, especially luxury items such as fashions, furnishings, and other fancy goods. The acquisition of commodities was considered enjoyable, but it was only one of the many pleasures of shopping. (Rappaport, p. 5)
The experiences Rappaport describes - not only buying, but looking at, trying out, comparing and considering commodities remain a central part of the appeal of shopping as an entertainment or leisure pursuit. They are among the characteristics that distinguish 'going shopping' from 'doing the shopping'; it is the former that gives the scope for such recreational activities by being open-ended, pleasurable, and not directed towards the end of provisioning, whereas the latter carries the associations of obligation and routine (Falk and Campbell, p. 102). In the past 'going shopping' has been identified with the high street and, increasingly, the mall, and has been associated with such commodities as clothes, shoes, personal care products, decorative items and consumer goods, while 'doing the shopping' has been associated with supermarkets suggests the necessary purchase of food and drink, washing up liquid, and other such mundane items (Miller, 10-11). One of the characteristics of the modern 'shopping and leisure' destination is the blending of these two types of shopping. The shops available cater for both provisioning and leisure shopping, and visitors are encouraged to combine the two - perhaps 'doing their shopping' at a supermarket within the complex in the morning, then having lunch in a restaurant or the mall's food court before relaxing with 'leisure shopping' in the afternoon. Some supermarkets within such facilities, such as Tesco's at Brent Cross, north of London, even provide special cold rooms for the storage of customers' frozen and chilled purchases, allowing them to spend more time in the mall rather than rushing home to get the shopping into the fridge/freezer.
Modern shopping malls thus consciously aim at attracting customers through offering entertainment as well as shops, commodities, and bargains. This reflects the emphasis on providing an environment conducive to both the act of shopping and to the association of shopping with pleasant, positive, and unchallenging feelings and experiences. The malls themselves are sold as sights in their own right, with guidebooks, tours and gifts; some have become 'tourist destinations, complete with tour guides and souvenirs' (Goss, p. 18). This is not new - the chain stores and department stores of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century used their buildings, illuminated and decorated, 'as their own best advertisement' (Jackson et al., p. 22) - but the scale is unprecedented, as is the brashness and eclecticism of the approaches employed. Jordan's furniture store in Natick, Massachusetts, for example, offers customers food, drink, windshield cleaning, a 262-seat Imax cinema, and 'a nine-minute Mardi Gras performance every half hour' featuring 'a mechanical Elvis'. These features have played their part in contributing to a sales per square foot figure for Jordan's more than three times better than the furniture sector's median (Lamancusa). As Goss has observed, developers 'readily employ the glitz and showcraft of entertainment', learning from advertising and theme park design to make going to the shops an exciting, entertaining, enjoyable experience (Goss, p. 21). The result is what one critic has called 'an amusement society of extraordinary consumer carnivals that are located in malls' (Shields, p. 41).
Despite the pejorative connotations of the term 'consumer carnivals' it is important to note that such places do not seek simply to be resorts of entertainment. In the case of the large malls and retail centers, the aim is to create a total environment in which entertainment, leisure and consumption (which includes, but is not limited to, 'shopping') are seamlessly integrated. The current owners of the Merry Hill Shopping Centre in the English West Midlands, for example, argue that their facility is, in effect, a complete, under-cover town center, offering 'most of the infrastructure you would expect in a town centre', including leisure and entertainment as well as retail, 'so to a large extent it is quite complete' (Jackson et al., p. 250). This is not a new development, as John Goss notes:
According to Victor Gruen, the acknowledged pioneer of the modern mall, his 'shopping towns' would be not only pleasant places to shop, but also centers of cultural enrichment, education, and relaxation, a suburban alternative to the decaying downtown. (Goss, p. 23)
This raises the issue of how traditional shopping spaces, specifically, high streets and other main retailing districts, in towns and cities can compete. It is paradoxical that shopping malls are attracting custom by presenting the appealing characteristics of the traditional shopping street (or what such characteristics are imagined to be) in an artificial, safe and all-encompassing environment, leaving the real thing to decay. Such enclosed streetscapes create 'an idealized social space free, by virtue of private property, planning, and strict control, from the inconvenience of the weather... The danger and pollution of the automobile [and] the terror of crime associated with today's urban environment' (Goss, p. 24); they weave consumption and entertainment together in a regulated environment enabling their clientele to enjoy the positive aspects of shopping without the negative aspects of the external environment.
Whether in specific response to the threat posed by such establishments to their economic well-being, or as part of a reaction to a more generalized consumer zeitgeist, the traditional urban retail environment has increasingly reshaped itself in the image of the mall. Shopping streets across Europe and North America are being pedestrianized; policing and surveillance, both by state law enforcement agencies and private security corporations, are being stepped up to reduce crime and exclude 'antisocial' elements and behaviours, streets and districts are being visually 'themed' (Boston's Old Seaport is a notable example). Such streets and areas are also playing on precisely the characteristic that has made the 'out of town' mall and retail development what it is: the fact that it is out of town. Thus while Bluewater sells itself as 'like shopping in the West End, but more relaxed. So not like shopping in the West End' (Bluewater website), London's Oxford Street makes a virtue of its central London location, using the slogan 'to the heart of London shopping', stressing that the street is 'in the heart of London' and emphasizing its bustling, lively character, its proximity to the other attractions of the city, and its excellent transport links (Oxford Street Association website). Increasingly local authorities, in partnership with retailers, are concerned to manage their environment to provide a shopping experience that is not simply utilitarian but offers leisure and entertainment and recognises the importance of encouraging the non-purchasing, browsing,…[continue]
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"Shopping As Entertainment When The Bluewater Shopping", 07 May 2004, Accessed.22 October. 2016, http://www.paperdue.com/essay/shopping-as-entertainment-when-the-bluewater-169385