Mall shopping is frequent, but the perception of mall crime and the concern over personal safety are widespread, according to the results of a market research study conducted by MSI International on behalf of SpectaGuard.

Based in King of Prussia, Pa., SpectaGuard provides security systems and staffing to regional and superregional centers across the country.

The study consisted of 203 telephone interviews conducted Aug. 24-30, 1998, among a national random sample of consumer households. Here are some of the report's highlights:

* On average, respondents visited malls 30 times in the past year.

* Shoplifting was perceived to be the most common crime (73%), followed by stolen wallets and purses (36%), vandalized cars (32%), and stolen purchases (30%).

* More than half of mall shoppers (53%) were very or somewhat concerned with their personal safety.

* While 72% said that having the department stores they liked was important, nearly as many (67%) named security as a very important factor in their choice of malls.

* The top reason given for not shopping at a specific mall was the perceived lack of security (52%).

* Having a well-lit parking lot was far and away the top-rated mall security issue (85% rated it as important), followed by visible security guards (66%) and outdoor security guards in vehicles (60%).

* More than nine in 10 mall shoppers considered the mall's outside areas to be the least safe, especially the parking lot (70%).

* When read a list of security issues, 87% of respondents (nine in 10) cited car vandalism as one of the top worries.

* The large majority of shoppers (87%) reported being less likely to shop at malls after 5 p.m. Women were significantly more likely than men to say they avoid evening shopping at malls (91% versus 65%).

* More so than men, women felt that lack of security was a key issue in choosing a mall (62% vs. 41%).

* Women more so than men were also concerned about their personal security in a mall (27% vs. 9%). Among both sexes, 42% named theft (unprompted) as their No. 1 personal safety concern.

* Women were significantly more likely than men to call for well-lit parking lots, emergency call booths both inside the mall and in the parking lot, and emergency panic buttons in the parking lot.

* Security was a greater issue in the Northeast than in any other area of the country. When choosing a mall, 77% of those in the Northeast considered good security to be very important, compared with an overall average of 67% nationwide. (Respondents were located in four separate regions of the country: Northeast, Midwest, South and West.)