I have a confession to make: despite writing for a retail publication, I secretly really, really hate malls. See, I’m one of these feared Millennial ‘purposeful’ shoppers who only set foot in a shopping centre if I have my journey mapped out in my mind from entry to exit. Dawdling down mall corridors perusing shop windows fills me with a sense of anxiety.
However, I can only go so long without entering a mall. Like any normal, functioning human being, I sometimes have to stock up on big-kid stuff like deodorant or makeup.
While I’m walking around, getting anxious and feeling my soul being slowly sucked out of me, I spot my saviour. There, glowing angelically like the McDonald’s golden arches in a drunk person’s hazy vision, is the red and blue Kmart logo. It grabs my attention and beckons me towards it.
When I walk through Kmart’s doors, it inexplicably has the same effect on me as walking into East Day Spa. There’s fewer expensive scented candles and chandeliers, and more fluorescent lighting, but the serenity is the same.
Unlike other stores, I don’t even mind the blindingly bright lights – I embrace them. Full visibility of all the various departments? Hell yeah!
It seems like I’m not alone in this inexplicable love of Kmart, either. When I was at my friend’s flat getting ready to go out to town last Saturday night, some of the flatties were simultaneously heading out to Kmart at 10:30pm. A trip to its store was a bunch of 20-something’s ideal Saturday night. What? How?
Despite big retail brands often copping abuse from the public, Kmart basks in this warm glow of unbridled love and affection, particularly from young consumers. It can do no wrong. There are even memes made in its honour, which is a great benchmark for telling a company it's made it.
It’s quite the turnaround story. If you went back five or ten years ago, Kmart was nowhere near as relevant a brand with the New Zealand public.
Now, it may as well rename itself Gloriavale, as customers have almost formed a cult, they’re so into it.
To try to figure out this phenomenon, I asked co-workers and Facebook friends why some people love Kmart more than their first-born.
“Late night shopping,” said one. “The most meaningful conversations occur in the aisles when lost in the Kmart labyrinth. The sweet smell of faux Tupperware is surprisingly therapeutic.”
“Also, it might offer the best nightlife in New Zealand,” they added. “Long after the city has gone to sleep, you can still be sure to find a single, ridiculously long—but surprising fast-moving—queue at Kmart.”
It’s true – Kmart’s stores nationwide are open until midnight, seven days a week. Sudden urge to redecorate your room at 11:00pm on a Friday night? Don’t worry, Kmart’s got you.
Fancy shopping for some underwear while the rest of your neighbourhood sleeps? Kmart’s staff will welcome you with open arms late on a Tuesday night.
The other point of difference that seemed to stick out was its range of products and their value.
“I like Kmart for the $10 bras, but not for the children that climb under the changing rooms while you're trying them on,” said one co-worker, while another said, “You can buy everything in one shop, for very low prices. Come for a rubbish bin and a bathmat, stay for the shark-shaped dog hoodies and knickers with the Milky Way laser-printed on.”
There was also a shout out to the scented candle aisle, which someone said definitely ranks in the top ten best smelling public places in New Zealand.
Others complimented its homeware section, which they said is very on trend, great quality and often a “classier” option than shopping at other discount department stores.
Some other stores’ products had reputations of breaking, they said, but Kmart’s seemed to never break. Plus, the turnover of stock was constant and consistent to keep up with trends.
One person even compared what Kmart’s doing with its homeware as similar to Ikea does globally, as it’s “designer styled furniture/homewares at stupid prices”.
Perhaps most worryingly - one person went as far as to say Kmart made him “tingle”.
So it seems the Australian-founded store, with its late hours and labyrinth of aisles filled with well-merchandised, good value, trendy goods, has cemented its place in New Zealand customers’ hearts – and pants.
Take note of its success, fellow retailers: as the meme says, one does not simply purchase only one item at Kmart.