Ever Get Lost or Confused in the Mall? There’s a Name For That

The only thing more American than apple pie might be the shopping mall. Between 1970 and 2015, the number of malls in the United States grew at more than twice the rate of the population. Austrian-born Victor Gruen is the father of the modern-day mall, and his aim was simple: build an environment so alluring that consumers will forget what they came to buy and will make impulsive purchases. This phenomenon — known as “Gruen Transfer” — became hugely influential in retail design and familiar to any shopper. Those grocery trips where you insist that you’ll just buy milk, only to leave with pears from an autumnal display, chocolates you couldn’t miss at the check-out, and 20 other expendables are merely moments of Gruen Transfer. Today, headlines proclaim "the death of malls," as consumers increasingly buy digitally or are too strapped for cash to spend at all. Nevertheless, shopping websites still bring the Gruen Transfer online. You might log onto Amazon to buy books, but then find yourself clicking one of countless products on its endless pages. If we want to dodge Gruen on- and offline, we'll need ways to block out the noise and stick to our shopping lists.