Montana State University

College of Business News

College of Business Faculty Research Tourists' Spending

Tourists buy more at shopping malls than local shoppers, and are happier about it, according to two Montana State University business professors who conducted a study on mall shopping patterns.

In "Is it the Mood or the Mall that Encourages Tourists to Shop," the lead story in the Journal of Shopping Center Research, Tim Christiansen and Dave Snepenger found that even consumers who ordinarily don't enjoy shopping may find pleasure in it while traveling.

In fact, of the shoppers that they studied, tourists made more impulse purchases, spent more than an hour more at the mall on average and spent an average of $40 more than local consumers.

"Many tourists seem to fit in a visit to a mall while they are on a trip," said Snepenger, a marketing professor who specializes in tourist research. "These tourists seem to enjoy the entire mall experience more than a local shopper," He explained.

Christiansen and Snepenger drew their conclusions after conducting a study at Park Meadows, a large mall in the suburbs south of Denver. The two developed a survey and handed them out in Park Meadow's dining area. Thirty-two percent of those who responded were tourists and 68 percent fell in the local resident category. The researchers' study was funded by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

From the survey Christiansen and Snepenger learned that tourists bought a greater percentage of impulse purchases, spent more time shopping and spent more money at the mall than they would on an average trip to their home mall. On the average, tourists said they spent about $22.50 more at malls they visited as a tourist than when they went shopping at a mall near their home.

The two believe that their findings can be applied to nearly any malls because the removal of the stress of daily living makes shopping more enjoyable for tourists.

"We found that we, Americans, like to shop, but not at home," said Christiansen, also a marketing professor who specializes in research of retail shopping patterns and mall administration. Christiansen and Snepenger said the need to shop is derived from modern man's roots as hunters and gatherers.

"Exploring a new shopping venue may bring some of the 'thrill of the hunt' back into the shopping experience for the consumer," their study said. That's in part why people hunt for something new and different while visiting a new mall. "There's the thought that at a new mall we might find things to buy that we don't have at our own mall," Snepenger added.

This concept of novelty was an important aspect of the study. "Mall management should find ways to create novelty within the space available," Christiansen said. The study adds that to be an income-producing attraction, the mall should include stores and tenants that can't be found at other malls.

American malls have also become more than just a place to shop, the study says. People of all ages and genders interact socially at malls. Snepenger believes that these shopper relaxation patterns at the mall suggest that today American malls are surrogate city parks.

"People feel very safe there with the architecture, greenery, climate and entertainment," Snepenger said. "They can be tourist destinations. In fact, the Mall of America near Minneapolis. is the number one tourist destination in America."

Snepenger explained novelty is the reason a shopping area doesn't have to be a mall to attract tourists with a yen to shop. Downtown Bozeman, for example, is a larger attraction for tourists than the local mall, Snepenger said, adding that a similar pattern exists in many Montana communities.

The importance of local shoppers is not to be overlooked, the study said. "The local shopper is still the one that guides out-of-towners to the mall to shop and socialize and they are the economic base of the mall," Snepenger added.

"Tourists don't supply the meat and potatoes of a mall's economy, but they definitely put on the gravy," Christiansen added.