A man plays games at a "husband storage pod" at the Global Harbor Mall. (Jiang Xiaowei)
It's a familiar scene in malls. Women drag their husbands and boyfriends along on shopping trips, only to have the men grow bored and wish they were somewhere else, anywhere else.
The Global Harbor Mall in Putuo District has come up with a novel idea for this gender disconnect in shopping attitudes. It has installed two "husband storage pods" last month, where women shopaholics can deposit their grousing male companions.
Each of the pods on the B2 floor of the city's largest downtown mall comes equipped with a TV screen, a keyboard and video games — a man den of sorts.
According to a study commissioned by the UK-based Quidco.com, men, on average, get bored after just 26 minutes being hauled around shops, while women are content to spend two hours or more picking through clothes racks, testing perfume scents or looking at the latest in handbags.
The pods are officially called "private lounges." Men can go there to play video games, watch TV, listen to music and get away from women asking them, "Do you like this dress?" according to mall media manager Louis Xue.
Although the pods are targeted at men, anyone in the store is welcome to drop in. The getaways come with leather gaming chairs, state of the art monitors, computers and gamepads where users can play vintage games from the 1990s, such as "Tekken" and "Street Fighter."
"We found in most malls that men cannot stand spending a long time shopping with the ladies," said Zhao Wei, product manager with Ingrem Tech, the company that created the pod idea. "Sometimes their frustrations are vented in heated arguments. So we came up something for men to do while their women shop."
So far, over 1,000 people have used the new pods. After a free monthlong trial operation, each pod now charges a user fee of 30 yuan (US.50) an hour, but they still attract about 50 people a day, Zhao told Shanghai Daily.
Wu Yueming, who accompanied his girlfriend to the mall, is thrilled with the idea.
"My girlfriend gets angry whenever she sees me glued to my phone while she shops," he said. "Now, she can shop and I can happily play games away from her critical gaze."
Some users have complained that the pods are too small and lack air conditioning and proper ventilation. Zhao said the company is developing a second-generation pod with air conditioning and other improvements. The concept will be promoted to more shopping malls in Shanghai and nationwide.
While men are content to be off by themselves playing video games, their wives and girlfriends frequently complain that it's no fun shopping alone.
"I like my boyfriend along to carry bags and give me opinions on clothes I want to buy," said a woman surnamed Tao.
Another woman said she feared her husband might not want to leave the pod when she finished shopping.
The pod idea does raise some concerns, however.
"I worry about the psychology of it," said Chris Matyszczyk, a commentator with CNET.com. "If your loved one — male or female — doesn't want to do something, is it wise to drag them along and then lock them up in a sweaty box? Isn't it better to just leave them at home?"
Another commentator, Anthony Dan, said the whole notion is insulting to men.
"The pods are pretty sexist," he said. "They reinforce the idea that women boss men around. Are men really so immature and silly that they can't tell their wives they'd rather not go shopping? Do they need to be put into bubbles to play video games like a toddler?"
A new Vanke Mall in Qibao Town in the Minhang District has created a "husband nursery" room on its third floor, with magazines, newspapers, a TV and a massage chair for men tired of being dragged around stores.
"We have long neglected the needs of male customers, so this room is a place for them to relax and chat with other men in the same situation," said a manager at the Vanke Mall, who identified himself only as Maxwell. He said drinks, xBox video games and a billiard table will be added to the room.
It's all part of strategies by shopping malls to offer additional, often novel customer experiences to offset the popularity of online shopping.
"We have to incorporate value-added elements, such as the pods, small libraries, artworks and special decor to give shoppers something they can't get when shopping online," Xue said.