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When was the last time you went to your local shopping mall? When was the last time you could say you actually frequented the mall?

Sometime in the 1980’s, maybe?

Well, break out the big hair and acid-washed jeans, because malls are ready for a comeback. That’s according to a study by Valassis, which, among other things, publishes the RetailMeNot Everyday coupon inserts. So, not surprisingly, its study suggests that more savings, discounts and coupons could be just what it takes to make the mall a happening place again.

Valassis’ first challenge was finding 1,000 U.S. consumers who identified themselves as “regular mall shoppers”, defined as visiting an indoor mall more than three times in the past year.

Once survey-takers succeeded there, they discovered that mall shoppers aren’t retail Luddites stuck somewhere in a previous decade. They actually do a lot of their shopping online, but the number-one reason they prefer visiting a mall is to shop for clothes, with more than 60% saying they like to be able to try on and compare various options. 39% like having the ability to visit multiple stores and make several purchases in one location, while 24% consider a mall outing to be a social occasion.

But even these mall shoppers acknowledge the drawbacks. They say opting for online shopping over visiting the mall provides a greater range of product options, helps them to avoid crowds and large parking lots, and saves them from having to travel.

So what would encourage them to visit malls even more often?

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Coupons!

59% said they would go to the mall more frequently if there were more opportunities for savings and discounts, far outpacing the second most-cited option of better parking accommodations, mentioned by just 20% of respondents. In fact, the top three things mall shoppers want to see more of, are “savings, coupons and deals”, “shorter lines and wait times” and “more access to in-store customer service reps”.

Malls “need to evolve to meet modern shoppers’ expectations,” said Valassis Chief Marketing Officer Curtis Tingle. “Consumers want convenience, product options and incentives and all brick-and-mortar retailers, especially malls, need to understand their audience so they can provide an experience that makes visiting worthwhile.”

So if shoulder pads, jean jackets and “Full House” can come back, why not malls?

Some, however, aren’t convinced that malls can, or should, be saved. At an industry conference last month, former J.C. Penney CEO Mike Ullman predicted that 75% of existing malls will shut their doors over the next five years. That would leave just about 300 malls in the entire country. At that point, not even coupons and deals are likely to spark a comeback.

Shortly after his comments, Ullman was named the new CEO of Starbucks, which has hundreds of stores located in malls. So he has a vested interest in keeping malls alive – but he’s not optimistic.

Valassis, however, is. “If malls evolve, there would be strong appeal,” its report concludes. “Even amid doom and gloom, brick-and-mortar stores can influence those seeking a one-stop shopping destination with strategic updates and incentives.”

So keep an eye out for coupons and deals at your local mall. And if you don’t come across any – there’s a chance you may not have a local mall for long.

Photo by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

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