Shopping is Big Business in Las Vegas

Credits: Photo - anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location - Mon Ami Gabi, Paris Las Vegas

Recently, I came home from my annual Las Vegas trip with the usual mixed feelings: I had a lot of fun, I got a bit of a tan, but I felt I spent a lot of money and not exactly sure on what.

Let me preface this all with a bit of background on me and why I love Las Vegas. Since 2009 I have been seven times and each time is a bit different. Las Vegas is special to me as it is the closest adult playland to Calgary via a short flight. Once there, where you came from or what time of day it is are not relevant. You can do and go where ever you want as long as you’ve got the money for the desired activity. Do you want to drink a two-litre slushy vodka out of a large plastic mould of the Eiffel Tower while walking through every casino looking for a $5 black jack table with 3:2 payouts? Good luck my friend, forge on. Or do you want to shake and shimmy that freshly sunburnt body in a nightclub until five in the morning? Knock yourself out! Or would you rather go to a different adult only show every night? Absolutely, how open minded are you? It’s a place where locals and visitors have their choice of gambling, cusine, entertainment free and paid, amusements, amenities, people watching and my favourite pastime: shopping. It’s a very happy place for me indeed.

People go to Vegas for a varity of reasons but dressing with purpose is ever present: mini dresses on bachlorette parties, suits and ties for the VIPs (or wannabe VIPs) and some of the most casual looks you will see in a city that boasts so much glitz. It is a fashion frenzy on display on the strip. On the one hand, we have the sweat pant contingent who woke up that day and said, “I’m in Vegas, let’s not only pack sweats, let’s wear them!” On the other hand another person woke up and said, “This Italian made suit is not coming off until I get back to the hotel.” Freedom of expression is not only well believed, it’s executed. Some say that many perform the walk of shame come the morning light. That’s too judgmental and negative for me. I say it’s proof of whatever Vegas adventure you grabbed by the horns. Good for you.

Regardless of my personal style taste, I really appreciate that people from all over come to Vegas and show “theirs” while on vacation. There are not many places where it is totally appropriate to wear yoga pants and cheap sunglasses, jeans and a T, teeny tiny swimsuit and sky high wedges, the glitzed out party dress with heels that could second as stabbing weapons, and a bag worth more than the sum of all your other packed belongings all in the same day. And not neccesarily in that order. It is all a part of the dusty, neon and LED lit up magic. With so many people out and about, and knowing that gambling spending overall is down from various reports, I was curious to know what else people are spending their money on?

The Las Vegas Convention Centre and Visitors Authority lists over 600,000 residents in 2013. In that same year, nearly 40 million visitors came to Las Vegas. 71% visitors said they gambled while in Sin City in 2013. That’s a consistent, downward trend from 83% in 2009, 80% in 2010, and 77% in 2011. In the same report, shopping expenditures per trip has been, in general, trending upwards. In 2013 the average spend was $140.90 per trip ($101.97 in 2009, $122.80 in 2010, $129.34 in 2011, and $149.29 in 2012). If my math checks out, that’s over $5.5 billion in 2013 from shopping alone. Cha Ching!

Billion of dollars is huge. With my curiousity running wild, I needed to get a sense of the bigger picture. I couldn’t think of a better US comparible than New York City. East coast we go. As of 2013, notes there are 8.4 million residents in the five bouroughs - Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. Detailed in that report are nearly 53 million vistors in the Big Apple in 2012. The report notes that visitor spending (international and domestic) in 2012 totals nearly $37 billion. Of that $37 billion, $8 billion is allocated to shopping. Cha ching a ding ding.

I was interested in more than the dollars. The number of shopping locations in a certain area was interesting to me too. In the Las Vegas Magazine, a local publication handed out in hotel rooms, it maps 8 shopping centres on the strip alone. We’re talking MALLS, people, not just single stores. For instance, in the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood tout 170 stores. The strip boasts so much shopping in just over 5.6 kilometers (thanks to a quick Google maps check) and that doesn’t include the two outlets and the Town Square. To put that in local context, Visit Calgary lists nine major shopping centres. Looking at the corresponding geography, it’s 43 kilometers from Shawnessy to CrossIron Mills and 26 kilometers from West Hills to Sunridge Mall. When it comes to shopping and urban planning, Las Vegas proves that it knows how to pack a lot in a few kilometers.

Going back to NYC, Manhattan is 21.5 km long and via the most densely populated shopping area appears to be a sliver of Fifth Avenue from 42 Street to 60 Street. That’s nearly 1.5 kilometers over 18 blocks. There’s a tonne of great shopping in the 100+ shops and department stores, ranging from high end to fast fashion, but nowhere near as many or as repetitively as Las Vegas. Vegas knows volume and the consumers, myself included, happily buy up the vast supply in droves.

Personally, I am doing my part to help the Las Vegas tourist economy. I am happy to report to the powers that be that I have well overspent the $140.90 average on shopping on each of my trips to Las Vegas. Or what I like to call, Less Visa (limit). But, I must admit, over the years I have made some excellent purchases that I cherish fondly and wear often. Some items not so much. And did I mention shopping is fun?

For a city the fraction the population of New York, shopping is very real and big business in Las Vegas. Not to take anything away from New York, the cities are of course very different and glorious in their own right, but the Vegas numbers are personally impressive to me. It’s a bit like if you’re going to compare Vegas shopping to another city, you may as well do it with the best.

Are the numbers surprising to you? How do you spend compared to the above averages?