It seems after years of shopping at generic retail venues populated by the same national brands, American consumers are becoming more discriminating about what they consider an inviting retail environment. Two recent studies, conducted with the help of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration, show that many malls and lifestyle centers fail to offer sufficiently unique architectural designs and tenant mixes to satisfy a large portion of their customers.

“The Shopping Mall: A Study on Customer Experience,” completed by the Wharton School and the Verde Group, an Atlanta-based research firm, looks at shoppers' attitudes toward typical mall environments. It turns out at least 80 percent of the 917 people surveyed for the study had an unsatisfactory experience during their last visit to the mall. About two-thirds of the problems centered on the mall's lack of unique offerings.

Meanwhile, a separate study, “North America's New Town Centers: Time to Take Some Angst Out and Put More Soul In,” a study produced by Cornell's School of Hotel Administration and Karl Kalcher, founding partner of MindFolio, an international consulting firm, finds that many lifestyle centers also fail on the uniqueness front. The developers tend to copy a generic prototype of a Tuscan town square and fill it with the same national brand stores and eateries as every other property in the same trade area.