What Does a Recession Look Like?

Scenes From a Pennsylvania Mall

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Peter Madden Peter Madden
We keep hearing and in some cases are definitely feeling how bad the economy is. So what does an economic crisis look like at the epicenter of retail, the mall? With the holiday season just around the corner? Below are a few observations from this past Saturday, a day that after five straight days of rain in Philly, saw me driving with my wife and 7-month-old son Gavin to join the masses at the King of Prussia Mall.
  • Stopped for gas on the way. Under $3 a gallon! Why isn't the media reporting that this is, relatively, some kind of bright spot! Also an observation: Why do oil prices drop to new lows around every major election?

  • No more anti-McCain or anti-Obama ads on the radio. No more wondering if McCain is drafting everyone under the age of 7 or if Obama is Stalin's cousin. All of that negativity couldn't have been helping the feeling of stability we're all looking for.

  • The parking lot is packed! What crisis? I haven't seen a parking lot this jammed since Dollar Dog Days at Citizens Bank Park for a Phillies' Businessperson's Special.

  • Inside the mall, though, it's tough to avoid the "sale" signs -- 40% off signs dominate the landscape at Nordstrom. Celeste observed that "I've never seen this many sales at this time of year in my life."

  • The mall is made up of two very distinct crowds: those loaded down with bags who haven't lost a step in their get-your-shop-on stride and those who go through the sales racks but never select anything.

  • Christmas decorations are going up, which used to be the green light of retail. Ironic that red is not only the color of Santa's outfit, it's also the color of the stop sign.

  • Speaking of, there sits an empty giant throne where kids will soon have their pictures taken with Santa. "No" may replace "Ho" this year. Are Santa's handlers instructing him on how to creatively say "Sorry, not this year" to kids?

  • Shopping is supposed to be a feel-good experience. Today, it just feels ... strange. What the hell is everyone doing here anyway? And why does that woman and her daughter look like they shop at the same store and share makeup?

  • My better half holds up a blouse that was part of a sale and says, "It's nice, but do I really need it?" It's the "really" that should probably trouble retailers. We're all nervous, and unless you're selling something that offers real comfort, it's going to be a rough ride this holiday season.

  • I held my son up over my head so he could get the best vantage point of the 40-foot-tall Christmas tree in the middle of the mall. His eyes lit up and his mouth opened wide. It seemed to impress him much more than anything for sale here.
It's our job to have the answers to marketing challenges in good times and bad, right? So what's your solution this Holiday Season?
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