The Cure To America’s Retail Woes Is More Convenience
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For many Americans, the neighborhood mall conjures up an image of suburban nostalgia. Some can recall driving in circles around the parking lot of their local mall, struggling to find a spot. Others remember the thrill of the food court, a culinary paradise for those looking for a quick bite.
For cities and towns across the U.S., neighborhood malls and shopping centers defined the American retail experience, offering consumers what big-box stores could not: a central location where visitors could shop at dozens of stores in one trip.
E-commerce has shifted the importance of these former retail havens. While some brick-and-mortar retailers view the changing retail landscape as cause for concern, others are using it as an opportunity to evolve. Instead of treating online retailers as competition, brick-and-mortar retailers are experimenting with ways to provide services that complement digital shopping experiences. Owners of malls and shopping centers are carefully curating their properties with retail experiences shoppers cannot get online, at least not yet.
“Online retail is quickly evolving, but the neighborhood shopping center is a strong asset because it provides services to consumers that they cannot yet order online,” Renaud Consulting President Henry Renaud said. “You can’t get your hair cut on the internet. You can’t get your nails done on your phone. Services like these still require a physical outlet that is convenient to the consumer.”
Renaud leads a team of 20 people who advise retail tenants and landlords in greater Washington, D.C., on improving the retail leasing and management process. His team has experienced the impacts of this changing retail landscape firsthand. Brokers by trade, several members of Renaud Consulting were once store owners and restaurateurs. For Renaud, retail is all about convenience.
“It’s important to think about what consumers are going to do when they come to a mall or shopping center," Renaud said. "We operate under the assumption that time is limited and people are busy, so they need to try to get the biggest bang for their buck. If they can go to a neighborhood center where they can do five things at once, it’s going to save them more time than traveling to five different centers to visit five stores.”
Developers and landlords need to think strategically about the tenants who occupy their space. Landlords can craft a more successful retail space by diversifying their tenants. For instance, a strip mall or suburban center that includes a dry cleaner, hair and nail salons, a grocery store and a pharmacy will provide more value to merchants than a center with two grocery stores and three clothing stores. By designing for convenience, landlords can use these centers to attract the modern consumer, who would otherwise order these items online.
Retail tenants are also adapting to consumer preferences. A majority of grocery stores and pharmacies now provide customers an opportunity to order online and pick up their orders in person. Other stores offer a browsing feature on their website that allows people to view products online and come into the store knowing exactly what they want to buy.
“By thinking logically about how to streamline the customer experience, retailers can provide an opportunity for shoppers to use their time more effectively,” Renaud said. “If you can provide people with one place that caters to all their shopping needs, they will be more inclined to come back.”
In line with this shift to a more convenient shopping experience, several retailers are beginning to set up shop on the ground floor of multifamily apartments, in mixed-use developments and around major transportation hubs. Retailers are now coming to their customers, not the other way around.
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