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The Shopping Centers of the Future

5 min read


Gerry Wright

This post is sponsored by RPAI.

Retailers are always looking for ways to draw in customers, and having the right location and shopping center partner can go a long way to providing the best experience possible.

Gerry Wright, President of RPAI’s Western Division, is responsible for executing the strategic plan for the company’s western region, including overseeing asset management, leasing, property management and redevelopment projects. He has more than 25 years experience in the real estate industry. Before joining RPAI, he served as a vice president at BPG, ING Realty Partners and Citigroup.

Here he talks with SmartBrief about trends for 2016 and how he works with retailers to increase foot traffic and strengthen community ties.

Question: In terms of retail foot traffic, what trends are you seeing now?

Gerry Wright: The major trend we are seeing is that consumers utilize the Internet to assist them with their shopping plans. Customers go online and research the items before they leave the house. Consumers price shop, check online delivery timing, check in store inventory and even research drive times. The end result is fewer shopping trips, but with higher conversion/sales per trip.

Q: How have shopping centers evolved to help retailers cope with changing consumer demands?

GW: Shopping centers help retailers deal with changing consumer demands through branding, reinvestment, community outreach, embracing technology and adapting to environmental advancements. Shopping centers need an identity just as retailers do. The center needs to be part of the community and to meet the needs of the neighborhood, such as offering summer concert series, adopt-a-pet events, veterans recognition or other outreach.

Shopping center owners also need to reinvest in their properties by providing clean, safe and attractive centers. For example they can add open areas, seating areas, water features or fire pits. Technology also plays a significant part in consumers’ shopping decisions and shopping center owners need to work with retailers to make sure that they are keeping pace with the numerous changes in technology. Finally, shopping centers need to be environmentally friendly, for example adding electric car fueling stations or converting to LED lighting. to compete in today’s market.

Q: What can owners do to attract customers to their centers?

GW: Owners can attract retailer customers through brand recognition at the property level and corporate level by utilizing social media and the Internet to create community awareness, loyalty and national recognition. Owners also need to provide the best tenant mix possible focusing on the live, work and play philosophy.

Take RPAI’s Southlake Town Square for example. This 840,000 square-foot lifestyle center is located in Southlake, TX, a suburb of Dallas. It is one of the premier lifestyle projects in the U.S. and is the epicenter of a town square, with a town hall that is owned by the city right in the middle of the center. The emotional investment by the community and the continued growth in the area has afforded us the ability to provide consumers with a best-in-class retail mix.

Q: Do you expect to see changes to shopping centers in the coming years?

GW: Definitely. Technology will continue to grow and have a larger impact on consumer shopping patterns. The mall of the future will really be about personalized experiences and distinctive offerings, whether that is in terms of technology, goods or the services provided. I believe that tomorrow’s shopping centers will see a different type of tenant mix, smaller selling floors and improved distribution proficiencies, as well as, technologies and capabilities that give shoppers the individualized experience they can’t get online.

Q: How does better technology and data help enhance experiences?

GW: The more information consumers have the better they feel about their purchases. Technology and data help consumers understand the product better and gives them an opportunity to make sure that they get the best price. Better technology and data also saves time for the consumer; they can determine if the product is in stock and drive to a location, or order it directly online. Additionally, in today’s shopping world consumers share more information with retailers and suppliers than they ever have in the past. This transformation in consumer and retailer relationships has many retailers opting for a hybrid approach to retailing, merging the physical and online experience to increase a customer’s interaction with specific products or categories, offering shoppers individualized services in order to provide a “unique shopping experience”. This includes the use of mobile POS systems, geo-fencing apps, product customization and next-day or same-day shipping to name a few.

Q: What is one of the biggest challenges facing owners in 2016 and how can they overcome it?

GW: Clearly, technology will be one of the biggest challenges facing owners in 2016 and beyond. Technology not only impacts consumer traffic patterns, retailers utilize technology and data to determine store location, unit size, relocation opportunities and rental rates. Owners need to understand that technology and data are critical components of the business and are constantly changing. Owners need to review and evaluate how they are utilizing data and technology in their overall business strategy and continue to adapt to the ever changing environment.