Cirque du Soleil at the Mall of America; Forever 21 in Times Square; products at Macy’s with QR codes that customers can scan with their cell phones to get more information about the item while they’re shopping; other cell phone apps that reward people just for walking into brick-and-mortar stores.
“Reinventing retail is a daily exercise for all of us in merchandising and everything else,” said Michael Townsend, president and CEO of Townsend & Associates, a retail and commercial developer whose clients include Forever 21 and United Colors of Benetton.
“It’s all about changing quickly and changing with the market—that’s the mantra,” he said, pointing to generation Y shoppers, those born between 1980 and 2000, who are all about connectivity.
“Technology has made them very adaptable,” he said. “It’s not about quality so much as it is about newness; they want newness.”
Speaking at the “Looking Forward: Reinventing Retail” panel at the Urban Land Institute’s 2011 Fall Meeting and Urban Land Expo in Los Angeles late last month, Townsend and other industry experts predicted casualties as well as opportunities ahead.
Technology, demographics, and the recession are the main market drivers, said Judith Taylor, a partner with Pro Forma Advisors, a land use consulting firm in Hermosa Beach, California. Growing internet sales and tight credit are keeping the pressure on retailers to downsize store space, while baby boomers move toward retirement and out of their peak years for discretionary spending. Meanwhile, Taylor said, the Hispanic population—and its spending power—continue to grow.
By 2025, one in five Americans will be Hispanic, she said.
“There’s going to be a focus on upgrading and repositioning,” Taylor said. “You’re seeing other kinds of uses moving into shopping centers, such as institutional uses—libraries, schools, medical services. For both retailers and consumers, it’s about making more with less. It’s about getting [consumers] to leave their home, exciting and enchanting them.”
Key takeaways from the session include the following: Retailers and retail developers are looking beyond price points to give their customers unique shopping experiences—which, in turn, is driving the trend to integrate retail and entertainment. Pedestrian-friendly mall alternatives also are on the rise, and, like every other industry sector, retail brands are looking at global markets.
Rick Chancellor, western region vice president for the McDevitt Company, a retail developer with a client list that includes Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, said the evolution of those companies has taken his firm from working on individual stores to putting together whole properties. Space 15 Twenty in Hollywood, California, has been a pivotal project, he said, mixing hip retail and food with a stage and “space of community.”
“The stage is used for local bands to play certain nights; they do film festivals; they do art presentations; they do fashion shows—all done in a way that’s fitting with the community,” he said. “Urban Outfitters master-leased that property; they felt it was important to control the tenants that are around them.”
Forever 21’s Times Square megastore is another example of the move away from mall locations—and an exception to the rule that stores that work at malls don’t work at street locations and vice versa, Townsend said.
“Forever 21 wanted to go international; we decided Times Square was a great place to make a statement to the world,” he said. “That’s what retail is today with technology and logistics and product. You put 100,000 square feet in Times Square, and you’re going to do some business.”
At the other end of the retail-entertainment spectrum, attractions such as Legoland Discovery Centers, Madame Tussauds wax museums, and Cirque du Soleil’s traveling shows are a growing presence in retail locations, where they can drive foot traffic and sales for traditional merchants.
“We effectively take snippets of a theme park and put them into an attraction and put them into urban centers,” said Howard J. Samuels, president of Samuels & Company, a developer that works with Merlin Entertainments Group, parent company for Legoland and Madame Tussauds.
“We believe it’s a perfect complement to a variety of mixed-use concepts,” he said. “If you’re [at a Legoland Discovery Center] for about two hours, you’re going to exit hungry. You’re probably going to want to do other kinds of shopping or other kinds of leisure activities, or you’ll come back another time to look at an Urban Outfitters or Forever 21.”
The synergies with local restaurants and retail have also been a major component for Cirque du Soleil, which in recent years has moved its traveling shows from central urban locations to sites such as the Mall of America and Santa Monica Pier, said Maryse Charbonneau, director of site location.
With the recession changing consumer spending habits, Cirque’s customers are now less interested in taking home a souvenir from the show than having something that adds to their experience of the performance, she said.
“They come to our show not only to see a show,” Charbonneau said. “From the minute they come into the parking lot, that’s when it starts. The experience is very important.”