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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Observations from ICSC Las Vegas, 2013

By Amy Erixon, Toronto
 
The annual Las Vegas Shopping Center convention was a showcase for the degree to which advanced technology can be expected to profoundly affect the retail landscape in the years ahead. These trends are already having a radical impact on retail behaviour and players in the US, Europe and Asia. (For example, the subway walls in Korea are covered with scan-able advertisements to permit busy commuters to order on-line on the fly with their smart phone). Canada is a decade behind.
 
I’d like to focus on three themes for this report:

·         Disruptors –

o    Innovation is in full force every direction you look

o    Price elasticity, advertising and distribution are all being radically affected by smart-phone technology and social networks – on demand delivery of goods is available in England

·         Disruption–

o    Wholesale Turnover of over half of the Leasing Floor over the past 5 years- owners as well as tenants – the recession took a toll and technology will reshape it further

o    Playing catch-up, evolving business models, even Wal-Mart allows third parties to sell and distribute via its internet shopping channel – where 40% of shoppers pay with cash

·         Differentiation-

o    Go big or go home – Amazon is the cloud provider for both NASA and Apple, and their sales are expected to eclipse WalMart by 2017. Samsung is the largest grocer in Asia and will soon be offering financial products to North Americans. This is indeed becoming “Clash of the Titans”.

o    If you are small and not ready to quit - focus is on maintaining relevance, delivering personalized service and/or customization, controlling and promoting your brand and reinforcing via social media to maintain customer loyalty amidst a dive to the bottom on price.

Can you imagine crowd-sourcing your retail merchandising plan? Have you heard of a “pop-up store”? Would you consider attending social networking events at your local grocery and drug store or using a drive through internet pick-up window at Whole Foods to save time? These concepts are not new, but they are being employed by surprisingly traditional retailers who are enjoying some degree of commercial success, especially in rural locations (perhaps in some way connecting better and more locally with their customers ). Welcome to the brave new world in retailing that is unfolding.

This is not a matter of “clicks” vs. “bricks”. This movement is about integrating new media outlets and tools to drive traffic, obtain and manage data and operate as well as promote your stores (i.e. manage the customer experience). Not surprisingly, the traditional brands with the deepest catalogue history were the early winners in converting to on-line retail; they had the infrastructure and are accustomed to presenting and distributing merchandise remotely. But in recent years big names in internet sales such as Apple have mastered how to present physical stores with such a“Wow” factor they sell more hardware that is only compatible with their applications - which in turn drives market share across the entire cloud based platform. What’s next for Apple: a new TV device to revolutionize that media, one more venue to control what information and advertising you receive, in addition to directing how you use their devices to manage your world.

 As “big brother” as this all sounds, the consumer wins in many ways. First, at their scale these companies can really drive prices down, and choices up. Amazon offers free shipping on orders over $25, and generous return policies, lowering the risk of buying sight unseen. Several service providers like e-Bay offer apps to compare price and consumer ratings of products. You can use them right in the store prior to making a purchase (or to order the same item on E-bay for less). Teenage clothing companies are introducing bar codes you can scan on clothing items in the store to determine whether your friends or peers have “liked” the item or more importantly, already purchased one. In a time constrained world, having the luxury of few clicks on E-bay or Priceline from your laptop, tablet or smartphone to plan a vacation, buy tickets to a local concert, reserve a table at your favorite restaurant or pay your bills on-line means you might find the time to get that extra hour of sleep or second or third workout per week accomplished.

If you are a landlord, be mindful a great deal of disruption is ahead, both seen and unseen. As an industry the leaders are starting to think about how to capture on-line sales at point of source (have we already been dis-intermediated by Facebook and E-bay? We have witnessed the near demise of the bookstore, and the rise of stores that double as service centers by telecom providers. Stay relevant by ensuring your centers offer a “treasure hunt” experience, some entertainment as well as staples to get people to come and then stay. Help your retailers with getting up the curve, before it is too late.

If you are a retailer, time to educate yourself and get there fast. Your website may be more important than your storefront, and your prime advertising audience might have shifted venues while you weren’t paying attention. Think about how you will provide your customers with sense of “community” or unique, one-of-a kind products or experiences? Have you asked? Have you considered a rolling charity event or sponsorship or a celebrity make-over day? Is your store “cool”, and lastly, is it welcoming to people who are more interested in playing on their cell phone than talking to a person? Now is the time, get going!

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