In a 2015 ULI Fall Meeting session as fast-paced as the retail industry itself, moderator Julie Taylor posed questions to a panel comprising Krista Di Iaconi of EDENS, Julien Perl of Gap Inc., and architect Alex Shapleigh of Calison, whose clients include iconic retailer Nordstrom. Panelists provided answers, summarized below, representing their knowledge and opinions.

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What can shopping centers do to offer an experience?
• Consumers can obtain their commodities online, so today’s shopping trips are driven by the need to make social connections. Centers should have ways to bring them back, consciously or not.
• Great retail centers are popping up all over the world. For example, a project in Bangkok features six stories of restaurant space on top of shops, plus a water garden, providing something new to explore at every turn.
• Space Ninety 8, an Urban Outfitters concept located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, with a sister shop in Hollywood, California, offers a curated collection of its own brands plus exclusive offerings from selected local designers, music, books, a bar, a restaurant, an iPhone-charging area, pop-up shops inside the shop, a living plant structure, and a rooftop deck. Did they leave anything out? “This could be the model for the future,” said Shapleigh.

When a landlord signs a retail lease, what kind of space should be designed for the tenant? In the past, consistency was important, but what about now?

• The key is flexibility. Most retailers eventually go out of business, and most retail formats are shrinking.
• The most successful projects in the future will be more vertical, accommodating vertical mass transit.
• What’s outside the retail space is still the main draw—for example, the indoor ski run in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates.
• Designs should accommodate multiple generations.
• Chain stores are trying to find that elusive formula that combines efficiency and replicable design with authentic, hyperlocal flair; Starbucks is one chain that is succeeding in this endeavor.

What is the effect of online shopping and the data gathered when people shop online?
• Thanks to e-commerce, retailers know a great deal about their consumers. Stores have been mining transaction data for a long time; now, large shopping center owners are doing so as well.
• Retailers need to walk a fine line in divulging how much they know about consumers. Younger people tend to think it’s convenient and cool that retailers know what they want, while older individuals may consider it intrusive and “creepy.”
• Shoppers, especially younger ones, don’t mind data mining—for example, sharing their location—as long as it benefits them directly.

What is the new role of social media? Surveys show that half of all millennials are influenced by social media when they purchase goods.

• It is clear that social media can make or break a product. For example, a social media–based marketing campaign was key to the successful launch of Old Navy’s Pixie pants.
• Some retailers are looking at the possibility of displaying online user reviews of their products inside their stores to gain or increase customers’ trust.
• Starbucks headquarters features a massive video screen displaying the company’s Facebook page and Twitter feed in real time, increasing executives’ awareness of the importance of social media to the success of their brand.

How can retailers and shopping centers create a sense of community when people are often isolated using their smartphones and other devices?

• People remain social animals. South Korea is the most connected country in the world, but one still sees people shopping, chatting, and dining out in restaurants. People don’t always want to be stuck in front of a computer screen.
• With more people living in smaller spaces, they will need to get out of their apartments more often; their destination is increasingly the retail environment.
• Retailers and landlords need to frame the shopping experience by making it comfortable, safe, and engaging. Thoughtful design and curated merchandising, including the perfect mix of national and local retailers, will create ongoing interest that will drive foot traffic to shopping environments.

When asked about the use of in-store technology, panelists agreed that many stores are using technology because it can be done, rather than because it should be done. A better approach, they suggested, is to put technology into the hands of sales representatives, creating positive interactions that can lead to sales transactions.