Economalls of Scale

September 2, 2013 – Day 033

Happy Labor Day.

My lovely wife and I decided to honor this American holiday by going shopping. Our commercial site of choice was the seven-story mall located close to our neighborhood. The place where we live, lest you have already forgotten, is not necessarily a bubble of expats living in Thailand, but it is insulated enough that I have taken to label it the “semi-porous mesh trapezoid”, or SPMT.

This mall, to my eyes, is large. However, I have been assured by people who have lived here longer than I have that this seven-story shrine to consumerism is not the largest shopping mecca in Bangkok. In fact, our local mall doesn’t even crack the top ten. Be that as it may, any person from the States would feel moderately at home at our local mall. It has stores for shoes, clothes, and electronics. It has a food court, self-standing kiosks that sell all sorts of items, and there is a movie theater. One can even buy a car here as there is a showroom in the dead center of the mall. Truth be told, it’s kinda like the mall we visited in Lima, Peru when we first arrived.

However, what is different about this Thai mall is how they have the mall laid out. Almost every floor seems to fit a theme.

The first floor – technically, the basement – is where the kiosks full of all things electronic reside. Here is where you can buy any type of smartphone and then proceed to purchase any type of case for it. At the moment, the popular figure of choice to adorn an iPhone case are the minions from the movie Despicable Me.

There is one whole floor dedicated to beauty. Shops that cater to those who want their skin whitening, hair straightened or colored, shoulders massaged, wrinkles eliminated, or age reversed need only go to the fourth floor.

There are two (yes, two!) entire floors devoted to eating. Restaurants for Korean BBQ, Japanese noodles, Thai cuisine, pizza and pasta, and Vietnamese flavors live on a pair of levels in this mall. Heavens to Betsy, there is even a Sizzler! When is the last time you saw a Sizzler in the States?

In addition to the cinema, the seventh floor is chock full o’stores catering to the educational needs of pre-schoolers. With names (in English, mind you) that contain words like “Academy”, “Magic Years”, “Brain”, and “Learning”, the mall’s top floor seems full of places for parents to ensure that their kids reach the top.

While looking at all of the similar types of shops all clustered around the same area, the economist in me wondered how a mall could sustain over fifteen small shops that all sold iPhone and Galaxy cases. How can over twenty stores all dealing with beauty and skin care survive in one mall? How do nearly forty restaurants stay afloat in the same venue?

How can one mall have five ice creams shops? How can a Swensen’s, Dairy Queen, Haagen Dazs, Cold Stone Creamery, and a Mr. Bud all co-exist peacefully as they do here?

With all that choice of skin care, child’s education, restaurants, ice cream, and electronics, it completely boggles my mind that this mall has only kiosk that sells gelato.

Hmmm, perhaps there is a business opportunity here.

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