A Morning At The Mall – Retail Channel Checks

This morning I went to the Natick Mall.   I haven’t been there for roughly 20 years.   In fact, I don’t really go to The Mall at all anymore – if I need something I buy it on Amazon.com ($AMZN – no positions).

Anyway, there were a few things at the mall I found worth noting.    First of all, it was a Tuesday morning, so it’s not like the mall was jammed.   This particular mall has an Apple store ($AAPL – no positions) and a Microsoft store ($MSFT – no positions) two doors apart.   It’s always fun to observe the disparity – the Microsoft store, set up to mimic the Apple store, in my opinion, had about 6 employees and 3 customers.   The Apple store was crowded with roughly 20 employees and 30 customers.  They even have a concierge who greets you as you walk in, takes your name, and lets you know who will be coming to help you and when.

Apple’s displays were impressive, as always.   I found it interesting to compare the Ipad mini with and without Retina display.  The Retina display is definitely noticeable (at least in a side by side comparison) – if you’re a stickler for that kinda thing.

The real genesis for this post, however, was the Tesla store ($TSLA – no positions).    The Tesla store contains a bunch of t-shirts, a computerized touchscreen display where you can design your custom Tesla, and of course: a single Tesla Model S.   I’ve never actually been up close and personal with The Tesla Experience, so I decided to check it out.    The Tesla Experience starts when you have to figure out how to open the door: the door handles collapse into the door so that they are flush.   I have no idea why they have this silly gimmick, but the act of touching the handles and having them pop out at you like some sort of machine from The Future adds to The Experience.  So there you go – I just answered my own question.

The interior of the car is, in a word, mesmerizing.   It’s not the interior, actually, it’s just the central display, which is a monstrous, bright interactive touch screen.   It’s not an 8-inch in-dash NAV system. It’s huge.  It’s like a parchment scroll (in its dimension, I mean) going down the entire center console, only it’s not parchment: it’s a state of the art computer.   The sound system was ridiculous in a good way.   You can open and close the trunk by touching the control display.   My thought was: “wow – I can’t wait to see what kind of mass market offering they come up with.”

The Model S is so inviting that I was sitting in the car and a guy walking by who stuck his head in the window immediately opened the door and asked if he could sit in the other seat.   He exclaimed “this is probably the most technologically advanced car in the world right now,” and I just nodded.   We stared at The Experience together in dumbfounded silence.   The lone employee working at the store told me that they sell about a car a day out of this store.  I found that pretty remarkable – they do test drives right from the parking lot, where they have some more Teslas on hand.

I left Tesla and wandered through what I assume is the newer “bubble” portion of the mall which is jam packed with luxury shops (Ferragamo, Gucci, Omega, Burberry, Coach, Louis Vuitton, etc) – but completely devoid of customers.

Before leaving the mall, I stopped to do a quick channel check at JC Penny ($JCP – no positions) – but I had to do a 180 and leave the store on account of the fact that their temperature was set at least 15 degrees warmer than the rest of the mall.  I don’t know if they were going for a rainforest motif, if their AC was broken, or if it’s a desperate attempt to cut costs.  Either way, it wasn’t working.


EDIT:  I forgot to mention my trip to Yogibo – a store which basically makes mold-able beanbag chairs.    They seemed pretty comfortable and customizable, and I think they’ll be huge sellers for basements/playrooms/college dorms.  I’m not sure I’ll ever have one in my living room, but…


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