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Work Harder and Innovate in Slow Times

By Russ Gager

Although shopping centers and malls may be built out in the United States, there still are opportunities to renovate them and take them more upscale through the addition of new tenants and improved amenities, David Contis, president of Simon Property Group told the 235 attendees at the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) at the 2012 Research Connections conference at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago Oct 1.

With 164 malls worldwide and 34 properties, Simon Property Group is adding upscale tenants and sliding doors, better seating and bathrooms, and children’s playgrounds to more than half of its retail portfolio to improve the properties’ market shares, Contis said in a wide-ranging discussion moderated by John Riordan, ICSC past president and lifetime trustee.

Contis also is bullish on incorporating mobile retailing into the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. He pointed out that Amazon.com wants a retail store and Apple relies on them. “At the end of the day, the Internet is moving more in our favor,” Contis asserted. “People still want to touch the merchandise.”

He used as an example a banner that pops up on a retailer’s website when a customer is ordering online that asks whether the customer would like to pick up the item at a nearby mall’s store instead of shipping it. Contis also pointed out how Apple uses its in-store computer classes to soft-sell additional hardware and software, something it cannot do on the Internet. Geofencing can be used to restrict customers’ in-store Wi-Fi access, he said, but he stressed positive synergies with online and mobile retailing.

Contis acknowledged the current trends toward building and converting malls to lifestyle centers and outlet malls or hybrids of conventional and outlet stores, but predicted that growth of those eventually would slow. He also praised the growth of retailing in Brazil and China, and the collection of sales taxes on Internet purchases to level the playing field with brick-and-mortar stores. Overall, his message was to take advantage of the changes in retailing by innovating rather than trying to block, ignore or reverse them.

Russ Gager is the editor-in-chief of Retail Merchandiser magazine. He can be reached at russ.gager@phoenixmediacorp.com.

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