Purpose A key question for shopping malls is to create a retail environment that is at the same time safe and entertaining. The purpose of this paper is to provide insight into this process by examining how consumers view various formal and informal surveillance practices in the context of shopping malls. The classification of surveillance practices into formal and informal surveillance is based on crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) theory. The paper also studies how consumers can be grouped according to their views on these surveillance practices. Design/methodology/approach The paper uses the CPTED theory as a theoretical lens and studies the consumers’ views of formal and informal surveillance using data gathered from a survey of 200 shopping mall visitors. The data are analyzed using principal components analysis and cluster analysis. Findings The results show that customer experience of safe retail environments reflects the distinction between informal and formal surveillance in the CPTED theory. The paper also shows that consumers have several different preferences towards surveillance practices and consumers can be grouped according to their preferences for surveillance methods. Originality/value This paper has provided new insights regarding the use of CPTED theory in research into formal and informal surveillance practices in shopping malls. The findings provide tools that help mall managers focus on the different needs of consumers in their quest to create safe and entertaining retail environment.

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