Retailers are working to attract shoppers with entertainment and efficiencies

Shopping centers, retailers looking to find new ways to retain customers

cschelle@bradenton.comMay 20, 2014 

LAS VEGAS -- Shopping centers and retailers want to give people an experience they can't get with a click of the mouse.

Consumers want to do something or feel like they're getting treatment they couldn't get anywhere else.

"The challenge for the bricks and mortar developer is to give people a reason to come to their store as opposed to just go to the Internet where Amazon can ship something in a day," said Ron Wheeler, chief executive officer of Sembler Company, a St. Petersburg-based provider of retail real estate services.

Books, video games and office supplies, for the most part, have become more preferred in electronic format, but folks still need to buy the necessities -- or have a little fun.

After all, shopping has always had an element of entertainment combined with a little therapy -- the challenge now is to make an experience you can't get online but maintaining all those online efficiencies you might want.

Retailers are being more selective and embrace what's called an omnichannel experience, where someone buys something online, comes to the store to pick it up and maybe makes a few other purchases or does some browsing. It's a fancy term for ordering a sub from Publix on the smartphone app and then going to the deli counter to pick it up.

In other cases, it's integrating technology inside the store to speed up service. Arby's and Subway are starting to add self-serve kiosks in some stores for people to order food, while Panera Bread has a new store design that has about eight kiosks to speed up ordering and ensure better accuracy, according to the 2014 retail outlook guide by Colliers International.

Retailers have to find their own way to incorporate that experience -- whether that's a restaurant in a store, entertainment program, offering classes or loyalty rewards.

"I think the challenge for a retailer as well as mall owners is not only how to attract the consumer, but to keep them and entertain them," said Faith Hope Consolo, chairwoman of New York-based Douglas Elliman Real Estate's retail. "Some people feel they don't need another sweater, another shoe or pot and pan."

What that really means is up to each retailer and shopping center and many are still trying to figure it out.

"Everybody's looking for the new solution," Hope Consolo said.

For movie theaters, that's a shift to dining and better seating. The Regal Oakmont 8 on Cortez Road in Bradenton is renovating its theater this summer to have leather recliners with footrests to offer something different for moviegoers.

The fast-casual restaurant concept is seeing explosive growth, making it a popular choice for retail real estate investors and developers. These type of restaurants have a certain mystique as they're not quite national, but start to pop up in selected markets. Names include Tampa-based PDQ, which is both expanding to Bradenton while jumping to other states, and Elevation Burger as the Arlington, Va., burger joint looks to grow beyond the Mid-Atlantic and into the Sunshine State.

"I would be just as interested in signing a tenant who had two or three restaurants and a good following with a unique product than a big national restaurant," Wheeler said. "You need to create an environment that makes people want to come to your center, as opposed to somebody else's center or opposed to staying home, renting a movie on the Internet, cooking their own meal and ordering some books online."

Some shopping centers might find themselves with a vacancy and need to figure out a way to draw people there, and that might mean going beyond traditional retail.

Matthew Harding, president and chief operating officer of New Jersey-based Levin Management, found himself without a grocery store at one of the centers his firm manages. They inked a deal with a medical school.

"They bring a lot of people to the property, sort of like the anchor did, with a big bunch of students who come and support the retailers as well," Harding said.

Ami Ziff, national director of retail for Time Equities Inc., specializes in acquiring stalled projects and has 92 percent leased in the portfolio. Ziff thinks some retailers are more scared off from online and Amazon than they should be. The Census Bureau found in the fourth quarter of 2013 that online sales only accounted for 6 percent of total retail sales. While that is increasing, it's still small when considering the entire makeup of sales.

"I think that you're seeing folks comparing a new hot start-up to an established mature sector, which is brick-and-mortar," Ziff said.

For instance, Amazon's experimentation with grocery delivery may sound great, but most folks still prefer to inspect food for themselves before buying, Wheeler said.

"You're going to want to look, touch and feel what you're buying," he said.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter@ImYourChuck.

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