Retail is Dead….or is it?

By Mindy Gronbeck | June 26, 2017

Hawkins Companies has been attending ICSC RECON for 40years.  ICSC RECON is the largest shopping center convention for retail real estate professionals.  The annual global convention provides an opportunity for developers, landlords, brokers, tenants and anyone related to the retail industry to network, discuss deals and maintain or form relationships.

ICSC RECON had nearly 40,000 attendees walking from meeting to meeting covering 870,000 square feet.  The south, central, and north halls hold many developers, REITS, and retail tenants.  Multiple meetings are held throughout the conference which sometimes have attendees running back and forth between the halls.  This is not the place to take your brand new shoes for their test drive; in fact one attendee chose slippers for the conference.  This would not be my choice, but not a completely absurd thought knowing the impact that the convention has on your feet.  On average I easily walk 20,000 steps/8 miles per day of ICSC, and that is with half my time in my own booth.  I guesstimate that those that walk the convention all day probably hit between 35,000 – 50,000 steps per day.  It is not a convention to forget your fitbit, I mean if you have to walk that far you might as well get credit for it!

This unique event is a two and a half day whirlwind with Monday being the busiest day.  I talked to many real estate professionals that are making it a one day convention by flying in early Monday, getting all their meetings in and catching a late flight out, but for the most part Monday and Tuesday are the deal making days.  There is something to be said for meeting, shaking a hand or putting a face to a name.  As tech savvy as our world has become you can’t replace human interaction that is still very important to the business world.  This is something I probably enjoy most about this convention.  It is meeting someone face to face for the first time that I have talked to for years or seeing someone that I have known for years and giving and getting a hug to confirm mutual respect in our profession.  All the technology in the world can’t provide that type of communication.

A portion of the north hall is the “Marketplace Mall” where you will find every vendor possible that might serve our industry.  I enjoy walking the mall every year looking for the coolest, neatest, and potential money saving service that I can find.  This year without a doubt the living walls were having a moment in the Marketplace Mall, but other notable displays were the automated parking garage (no humans needed) and the interactive screens and fountains.

Hawkins Companies had steady traffic in and out of our booth holding 128 meetings over the two and a half days.  Going into this convention I was wondering how the talk of “retail is dead” and the “retail apocalypse” would affect the convention.  Since the great recession every year you hear a list of retailers that are closing, calling it quits or filing bankruptcy.  I would agree that the retail world as we have known it has changed, but I like to think of it as a metamorphosis and not an apocalypse.  Have we lost a lot of great retailers due to the ever mighty Amazon effect?  Absolutely.  Will we lose more over the next decade?  Yep.  Will retail survive?  I think it will, but only by those that are proactive and willing to adapt to the changing times.  The retailers that are the best in their field,  provide an experience for their shoppers and deliver amazing customer service will still be open for years to come.  I mention customer service because I still believe (as mentioned above) that there is a desire by shoppers to touch items before buying and to interact with humans during the shopping experience.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my Prime shipping and the ease that Amazon offers, but leaving a store or restaurant after having amazing service still makes my day better every time.