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Take a Trip to the ‘Mall’ and Improve Your Blog [Day 13 – 31DBBB]

Posted By Darren Rowse 18th of April 2009 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

This post is an excerpt from the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook

ShoppingToday’s task in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog project is to go Shopping!

OK – I can hear what you’re probably thinking:

“What? This ProBlogger dude has lost his mind – what does shopping have to do with blogging?”

Stick with me for a second and let me explain….

The reason I want to encourage you to go shopping is twofold:

A. It’ll get you away from your blog for a bit – I was chatting with another blogger yesterday and we both admitted to each other that we’d been in our PJ’s all day blogging (it was 4pm for me) and needed to get out more – sad but true.

B. It’ll give you a chance to do some observation exercises that could help your – this is the main reason for today’s task and is based upon an experience that I had today at a local shopping center (or ‘mall’ as many of you non Aussies would call it).

The Exercise:

1. Step away from the Computer (come on, you can do it)

2. Grab a notebook and pen (do you remember them? They are the things you used to use before your primary form of communication involved typing)

3. Head to your local shopping center/mall/CBD shopping area (easier for some than others I realize – apologies to those in rural areas, this may or may not work in your local general store)

4. Once at the ‘mall’ take 30 minutes or so to go ‘wandering’ with no agenda (don’t do your groceries) except to ‘watch’ and ‘observe’ in some of the following ways:

  • Who is there? Who are they with?
  • What are they doing?
  • What are they buying? What products are particularly in demand at the moment?
  • How do they make their buying decisions?
  • What are the retailers doing to get people’s attention and stand out?
  • What messages are they using in their marketing?
  • What colors/design techniques are in at the moment?
  • What other things are ‘hot’ or in fashion?
  • What sales techniques are sales staff using?
  • What are retail outlets doing well? What are they doing poorly?

5. As you watch, make some notes. Don’t attempt to find any ‘lessons’ or try to tie it back to your blog yet.

6. Once you’ve spent half an hour or so on ‘observation mode’ find a spot to sit down (a food court perhaps) with a coffee and go over the things that you’ve noticed and see if there’s any lessons there that you might be able to apply to your blogging?

This process might seem a little random and pointless – but it’s something that I’ve done on numerous occassions over the last few years and each time that I’ve done it I’ve come away with at least one new idea that I want to apply in my blogging.

Some of the ideas have come directly from things I’ve seen retailers doing in their marketing (for example, today I saw a store using an attention grabbing technique that I want to try to apply to one of my blogs to draw readers eyes) – while others are more lessons about ‘people’ and how they operate and once or twice I’ve even seen illustrations to use for posts or even ideas for new blog post topics. Once I even spotted a trend that gave me an idea for a new blog.

If nothing else it’ll get you out of the house for a bit!

I’d love to hear your experiences of this exercise in comments below!

Update: Here’s what I learned on MY shopping expedition when I first posted this exercise in the last 31 Day Challenge – I hope it gives some ideas on how this might work out.

Update #2: They’re talking about this over at the 31DBBB forum: Day 13 – Visit a ‘Mall’ (really… a Mall) You should join them!

Want More?

This task is a sample of one of the tasks in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook – a downloadable resource designed to reinvigorate and revitalize blogs.

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About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Darren,

    I’m closing the laptop now and head for the mall armed with my notebook and pen! I am ready for new ideas, thoughts and thinking out of the box.

  2. I definetely need to get out more. Sometimes I get my best results when I’m away from my blog. Kinda sad, actually and kinda makes yu wonder if you really n ed sto spend so much time blogging. But maybe it’s just because when I’m away from my blog I’m not looking at the numbers every 30 minutes.

    Great post!

  3. sounds like “Lets go with the flow.” thing
    and if there is an stroke of genius, you gain an idea
    if not, well… it is kind of relaxing to do something pointless.
    i do go to the mall and play some crazy arcade games.
    vent all my stress on virtual enemies.

  4. I was surprised to hear this from you because this was just what I did this am!

  5. Having a young son at home thankfully gets me out of the house. Otherwise, I can see myself glued to the computer. There are times that I’ve found myself thinking “Man, I’ve got so much to do with the blog. I should be doing ____ right now.” Your post reminded me that times away from the computer are just as valuable as the work done in front of it (as well as being important in my role as a mother). I can enjoy and relax in the moments I’m not blogging knowing that I am still able to observe and take in useful information that I can tap into for my blog. Thanks!

  6. Great suggestions. Another thought is to take the digital camera. I’ve done this in the past and used a simple/free editing program like Picasa to create great photos for use on the blog – no credits to site, no $ to spend.

  7. As a frugal blogger, I’ll take you up on it at Good Will, or yard sales – the melting pots of America. Where else can you find BMW’s and ” the other end of the spectrum” all in one spot haggling over someone’s Grandma’s silver. :)

  8. Darn it, I was at the mall yesterday! lol

  9. If I buy anything, I will tell my hubby that Darren at Problogger made me do it :-)

  10. Thanks Darren for such a great tip and I really think that it is good for any blogger to have rest.

    Mohammad Afaq

  11. Excellent suggestion. I have not been to a mall for 6 months, but I will give this a try!

  12. I’ve just came back from shopping mall, of course before reading this post. But, everytimes I was hanging in shopping mall, definitely I’ll look and observe things around me, if something pop out from my mind that related to blogging, I’ll take out my handphone and type in point form. So, once I get home, I’ll write them out as a blog post.
    It’s a very effectiveness way to find ideas or inspiration.


  13. outside? i dunno. every second away from the computer correlates directly with lack of sleep.

    just kidding, sounds fun!

  14. I visited several thrift stores and called/talked to people to learn what happens to clothes that are donated. It was on site and person-to-person research for a blog post I was writing (part of a series about organizing your wardrobe). http://denisefisher.wordpress.com/2009/04/17/what-to-do-with-clothes-you-dont-wear/ Talking to people also makes you feel like a journalist/reporter, not just a blogger.

    Another bonus to going on location – photo op! The pics I used to supplement my blog post were taken on site. Be discreet with your photography though – people are paranoid and you could be asked to stop or to leave.

  15. I just went to the mall just hours before you posted this! What unfortunate timing for me! I’m trying to go back over my experience and do this exercise mentally – not as effective, but at least it’s still fresh in my memory!

  16. Thanks Darren for giving me permission to close my computer and instead of letting my fingers do the walking, I will actually be walking.

    Great for clearing the head and recharging the batteries.

    Note to self: now where did I put my walking shoes?

    Heidi Richards Mooney

  17. Hmmmm, considering I write about getting out of debt on a personal finance blog, I think going to the mall might be a stretch!!!!!

    I do understand the mode of thinking and think it’s a great idea as long as everyone can avoid buying crap!

  18. I actually remember you mentioning a trip to the mall in one of your older posts so thhis task is understandable. I must admit that it was something that I did not expect to be doing during the 31 Day Challenge. However, it should be a fun task, now I’ll have to figure out which mall I want to go to soon. I’ll have to put this task aside for another day.

  19. I spent 7 hours out of my home into 3 different malls. I need some time off my online world.

    I made some observation but could not notice any significant lesson yet. Maybe one thing that I observed is how come all people are out of the house on weekends shopping at malls…the car parks are full. How can I capitalize this opportunity?

  20. This sounds like a fun idea. I’ll see if I can get out to the mall in the coming week.
    A couple other folks here mentioned the local coffeehouse as a good place to go to work and generate ideas. I like to go with my notebook and pen, or a book or magazine to read…stay for an hour or so reading, writing, listening. I’ve got little snippets of conversation I’ve written down, or I’ll hear something that makes me think of a blogging topic, or I’ll riffle through the bulletin board notices and flyers left on the counter for ideas of what’s interesting to write about…or who is selling what, and how.

    I’m wondered about Neil’s question about photo use as well. With Lightroom, I’ve been able to add my copyright metadata to my photos as I’ve uploaded them and a add copyright watermark since earlier this year. I’ve always just used low-res versions of my photos with my blog posts to at least limit their usefulness to others just grabbing them off the Web to use without permission, attribution and/or compensation. While I’m not a pro photographer, photos are part of the package with me…and the issue of photo rights was one of several concerns that actually caused me to turn down a recent contract I was offered for blogging.

  21. This is wonderful. I was going to the mall anyway! After my shopping spree, I generally sit at the coffee shop and people watch. I enjoy seeing all types of people going about their daily lives.

    A good friend and fellow blogger does this quite often, except she take along a digital camera to take random shots of interesting subjects for her Daily Painting blog. http://gwenbellsdailypainting.blogspot.com/

  22. Ooh, people watching is something that I love to do ANYWAY, so this will be a lot of fun for me.

  23. Perfect! I am printing this out to show my husband, now if I can just figure out how to add….”And spend a good amount of money on some new clothes!”

    I get out lots, and when I am writing often, everything seems to inspire me. Either for my novel or my blog, where I do a lot of reflecting and devotions on scripture.

    I LOVE this assignment!

  24. Hi Darren,

    At the mall I always get distracted by nice looking girls/woman all over the place. That’s why I decided to skip this one, stay home and brainstorming about new post like you described the day before yesterday. I ended up with new ideas for the upcoming week and I scheduled them into my editorial calendar on Google.

    I feel I’m right on track even though the weather today is a little depressing.

    Have a nice weekend!

  25. LOL I am one person who lives in a rural area without any malls.

    I have done merchandising and retail and although I was in my bathrobe this am until about Noon–I get out regularly.

    Color, moving things around, and mixing up the inventory tend to work well in the brick and mortar.

    I find that I do move some things around my blog (at least the sidebars) and do a makeover every couple of years.

    But I also ask my subscribers questions–and get their answers–it helps!

  26. Aw.. omg I wished I read this mail/post earlier.. I was in mall today, no idea to go again, tomorrow. :( :(

  27. That’s exactly what I’ll do tomorrow! I thought your post on this subject in the previous 31BBB was really insightful. One point I would like to make is that it’s certainly worthwhile to look at others shop and see how they make their decisions but we can also analyse our own behaviour (after all, we are shoppers too!) and what our decisions are based on (what attracts us: colours, discounts, a friendly salesperson, etc…, and our emotions at that moment and how they affect our choice). Great article!

  28. Great post! It’s all about changing your environment – i.e. angle is everything.

    I do the same thing, but instead of a crowded mall, I go into the wilderness be it desert or forest.

    The resulting ideas and motivation that come fourth cannot be ignored!

  29. Hate malls. Hate, hate, hate. They are the antithesis of the one of a kind, personalized, handmade, artifact (or artefact if you spell British style). Malls are full of chain stores that are chasing the small businesses out of existance and brainwashing people to accept lower quality and higher prices without value. Which really has nothing to do with this assignment, I know, but since there aren’t any real malls near me, I won’t be able to do this version of the assignment.

    /end rant

    I’m pretty sure this also won’t work at strip malls where there is say, a supermarket, a Staples, and maybe a Marshalls or suchlike and people don’t wander so much as rush from their car to the store they need and back to their car.

  30. Another great exercise/question to ask is whether or not their buying decision is affected by who they are with.

    One time when I was at a mall and a salesperson got me to buy a $90 item, I thought back on everything she said in order to analyze the effectiveness of her pitch

  31. On the third hand, because I am a vendor of my own artwork often in face to face environemnts, a lot of what you learned in the mall (for example about going the extra distance to make the customer feel appreciated) is something I already know and take into consideration.

    So, thank goodness I don’t the mall!


  32. OK. So i’m off to the mall today. Hopefully not too much separation anxiety from the computer. Will let you know what I find out.

  33. Great idea Darren.
    I do something similar at my local starbucks although I probably focus too much time on writing and brainstorming. Next time I’m leaving the laptop at home and doing more observing and people watching;)

  34. I am not going!! :D

  35. My blog/site is related to personal finance so I do this on a regular basis by looking at what magazine’s and newspapers are writing in their “money” sections – which sites my target audience are hanging out on etc.

    Very productive to show what’s hot at the moment.

  36. I have done this at McDonalds and many other restaurants and shopping malls. It is defiantely a great exercise that I have used on my blog numerous times.

    Thanks for the great post

  37. I find when I do this exercise, it I see pattern and color combos to use in my artwork. I am so find inspiration that inspires a blog post full of link love. This was a nice reminder to step away from the computer and live to generate content.

  38. Darren, another way to think out side of the box. These are some ready great points that people should stop and think about because the answers are practically every where around you if you stop to think. Really great insights!

  39. What a riot! Thanks again for another superb assignment. You must be psychic; my family has been commenting on my “excessive” internet time and this was a perfect gift…. I stepped away for several hours. More good stuff to contemplate. Happy Sunday!

  40. This is an interesting idea. I am a few days behind now with the last two posts and now this one. I have a full week-end and won’t be able to go to the mall until the first of the week. I need a new belt anyway, so that should work out well! I will make some notes of what I need to observe.

    I cannot quite figure out how this ties in with my photography blog but I will see what I can do! Any ideas?

    Thanks again. How do you come up with these ideas?


  41. A great assignment for my Monday. I’ll report back in the afternoon!
    Suzanna Stinnett

  42. Perfect tip Darren,
    It’s always good to think outside the box, as some other commentator already said here.

  43. I actually do something similar, although I will try this too. Being a artist/designer first and blogger second, I look for inspiring subject matter. There’s a park in the middle of Los Angeles, California where you loose sight of the fact that you are in a city at all. This is great for clearing my head and seeing things I couldn’t around all the noise and chatter. With a wife and child it gets a bit harder to do this, one can make time for the things they want to do. Now that blogging has become a important part of my life I must try your method because blogging is a people business. So, off to the mal. My wife will love this…maybe I won’t tell her. ;)

  44. I sent an hour at the Westside Mall in Olympia, Wash.

    I observed:

    * When I walked in the mall in a hallway, there was a huge photo of a child blowing the white fluffy seed stuff off a dandelion. The caption was “Wishes do come true.”

    * Stores are using a lot of red, pinks, and oranges in their signs and the goods they’re selling.

    *The information station about heart disease, where you can take your blood pressure for free, was red.

    * Stores pick colors according to the sex they want to attract. Hallmark uses pink in its Mother’s Day display, on the shelves where cards are sold, and in the cards themselves. Champs Sports, for men, had a black sign with white letters trimmed with a tiny big of red. When you look in the store, you see lots of black and white in the clothes and shoes with some red.

    * Each store is set up so that an image is created when you approach the store.

    * Many stores had sale signs, mostly in red and white. Aeropostate had a green and white sale sign.

    * Christopher & Banks had a green sign that said “Green is good. All small and simple acts of goodness add up to make a more healthy earth.

    * Bath & Body Works had a sign that said “Black is back. Black Amethyst is our sexiest fragrance ever.” Black and white is a hot color combination. It’s being used in a lot of the high-end clothes being sold at Macy’s.

    * Families were at the mall together.

    * Teens were at the mall in boy groups and girl groups and couples. I saw two teens in their prom dresses.

    * A vendor with a stand in the middle of the mall was selling small frogs in aquariums. He said the frogs are full grown. The sign said you only need to clean the tank twice a year.

    * One jewelry store, Zales, created an inviting atmosphere with a rose colored carpet, rose colored signs, and wooden display cases. Was it designed to appeal to women? Kay Jewelers had a black-and-white sign and a black-and-white sale sign.

    * That Kitchen Shop had colorful pots, pans, and dishes you could see from the door.

    * The Gap for men had a big poster of a guy reclining with the words “Spring Clearance” on his chest. The lights were dim in The Gap for men, but not in the women’s or kid’s stores.

    My conclusions as related to blogging:

    When people enter your blog, it gives a first impression. You want to have your blog look appealing.

    Use bright colors to attract people to your most important items.

    Bloggers need to pay a lot of attention to the needs of their audience line retailers do. This is new thinking for me. I’ve been a consumer writer for a couple of decades and haven’t been involved in marketing. It’s different to think about marketing in addition to article content.

    People like photos of kids. I’ll take more and use them more often on my blogs.

    That’s all I can think of now. Maybe something will occur to me later.

    Rita blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide http://boomersurvive-thriveguide.typepad.com

  45. OK. I went to the mall. Here are a few of the things that I noticed.

    1. Most business names relate directly to what the business does, or they are the name of a person. I am an Aussies so most of my examples will be Aussie. (eg. The Coffee Club, Roger David, Jeans West).

    2. Red and White are the 2 major colors used to attract attention to specials and sales.

    3. There are usually special offers at the front of the business to entice people to enter.

    4. Most businesses are divided into departments.

    5. Nobody trys to stop you from leaving when you decide it is time to go.

    6. Customers stay longer in businesses that engage them in doing something. (eg. coffee, Borders is good at this as well).

    7. When you buy something you often get an opportunity to buy something else at a reduced price.

    8. You often get a discount if you buy more than 1 of the same item (eg. buy 2 for $50, buy 1 get second pair for 1/2 price).

    9. Businesses don’t usually advertise the products of other businesses. (maybe there is an interesting discussion here about whether or not to put adwords on your website!!)

    So, thats what I noticed. Should make for an interesting blog post about what it all means to an online business.

  46. Went to the mall prior to reading this message and found it to be quite entertaining and quite annoying. I have at least one week’s worth of blog posts.

  47. I normally get my blogging tips posts ideas from the sermon at church lol

  48. Darren

    You must have found a hot topic here among us bloggers. More than 60 comments in one day … that’s great, and very relevant and nice comments. I think most people working on blogs spend a lot of time in front of the computer. Bring the laptop to the garden or the Mall – a change of environment will do you and the blog good.


  49. Great advice, I’ve read through the other articles on your site and really appreciate the info as a noob in the blog world this really helps…thx


  50. Darren I’m spotting this especially on twitter. You can see who’s been in front of the screen the whole day and who got out and came back with less but more informative tweets and I assume blogs will go the same route as well. Quantity vs Quality. Sometimes less can be more.

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