LAS VEGAS--If you were here at all last week, you got the
clear sense that the US retail market is alive and well. The International
Council of Shopping Centers held its annual RECon Conference here, jamming
hotels, crowding taxi lines, filling the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center
and generally celebrating the retail and retail real estate industries.
As we reported last week,
some 36,000 attendees showed up at the Convention Center
along with more than 90 exhibitors ranging from real estate REITs and
brokerages to such shopping brands as Chipotle, 7-Eleven and Starbucks.
The overall tone was upbeat and the two primary issues on
the show floor, and in many of the meetings, was the ongoing debate between
brick-and-mortar shopping and internet sales--the so-call bricks-vs-clicks
argument. One vendor proclaimed that too many retailers are still in denial
over the growing (albeit slow) advancements of web sales. The winners in that
tug-of-war will be those who recognize that it’s not us-against-them but will embrace
an integrated approach, an omni-channel strategy utilizing both the physical
experience of going shopping and the ease of the web.
They will also embrace the “shopping experience,” a very
popular phrase in Vegas this year. It’s a strategy recognizing that people
don’t shop simply to shop, but rather to be engaged and entertained. The
American mall is a prime illustration of this transition. The traditional mall
of the 1980s is struggling today to reinvent itself for a new generation of
shopper. Rather than the traditional Macy’s or Penney’s, the modern mall today
will boast restaurant anchors, as just one example, to feed (literally and
figuratively) the shopping experience. Fun for the whole family.
Upbeat though the conference tone was, the attendee numbers
were down over previous years (pre-recession numbers topping 50,000) and there
was another odd but telling measure--a relative lack of end-of-day parties and
receptions.A major part of the “RECon
scene,” the diminished number of such get-togethers implies possibly a belt
tightening as a result of the Q1 economic volatility or a simple move to
network differently. On all fronts, it will be interesting to compare this
year’s event through the lens of RECon 2017.