Not only a place to check out and purchase the latest fashions, shopping malls in Israel have become an integral part of local communities, representing a preferred location for social mingling and hanging out.
"The 'magic' of the Israeli shopping mall does not only offer the selection of consumer goods and brands you can find in it, but also opens social and communal opportunities including networking and identity definition," said Sheked Gilboa, researcher of a new study on shopping malls conducted by Tel Aviv University. "The findings of the research showed that we have developed creative ways to use commercial spaces such as shopping malls to cater to needs that are not related to purchases only."
Israel has 90 shopping malls and commercial centers, built between 1985 and 2005, a development that puts the country third in the world when comparing commercial space relative to the number of people.
Because a trip to the shopping mall for many Israelis represents a social event - a place where they are bound to meet people they know - this sometimes is the determining factor for choosing one mall over another.
Although about 72 percent of those surveyed were visiting the mall to make purchases, still about 55% were at the mall for loitering and to meet socially. In addition, about one-third of the visitors, regardless of age and gender, came to the mall for a specific activity, which was either a purchase or going to the movies, while they did not participate in any other consumer or social activity, the study found.
The majority, about 83%, of Israelis visit the local shopping mall in their residential neighborhood on a regular basis - about four times a month, with 71% of those surveyed saying spend more than one hour on the visit.
In the majority of cases, Israelis don't come to the mall on their own. According to the survey, about 41% (mainly young people and teenagers) were accompanied by friends, while 37% (mainly adults and parents) were visiting the mall with family members.
The study also found gender related differences in the behavioral patterns of shopping mall visitors.
Women and generally young women are busy with consumer loitering around the shops while trying out goods and products, having a close look at windows and, at times, making a spontaneous purchase. Men, on the hand, are busy with social loitering, coming to the mall for social meetings, to pass free time or for people watching.
According to the study, older men were found to be the most difficult consumers.