Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Here's a novel way to study shoppers and shopping...

From the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction department comes a story (via ABC News) of an artists' cooperative that surreptitiously built a small apartment inside a shopping mall to, "understand the mall more and life as a shopper." According to artist and mall-dweller Michael Townsend, the idea for the project, "was inspired by a Christmastime ad for the mall which featured a 'an enthusiastic female voice talking about how great it would be if you (we) could live at the mall.'" The article recounts the entertaining points of the story:
[Townsend] said he and seven other artists built the 750-square-foot apartment beginning in 2003 and lived there for up to three weeks at a time.

The artists built a cinderblock wall and nondescript utility door to keep the loft hidden from the outside world.

But inside, the apartment was fully furnished, down to a hutch filled with china and a Sony Playstation 2 although a burglar broke in and stole the Playstation last spring, Townsend said.

There was no running water instead they used the mall bathrooms.
So while Townsend is now on probation (and probably far away from a mall), his story got me thinking about shopper marketing and retail anthropology. While a good number of CPG makers, malls and retail chains have done anthropological fieldwork in their stores and with their shoppers (almost always by hiring it out to a professional field service company like Envirosell), I haven't heard of anybody who did so for over four years at a stretch. And while I doubt that Townsend kept the kind of methodical, detailed notes that can yield significant insights, his little experiment would suggest that mall patrons might adopt a behavior pattern -- even a bizarre one -- and keep it up for quite a long time before someone notices.

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