Retail Alive & Well at RECon 2016

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.

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