By  on December 6, 2017

Please excuse retail and shopping center executives if they seem especially cheerful or even positively giddy. It's been a long time since the industries experienced such a uniformly strong start to a holiday season as the recent Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Retail gains in the 3 to 4 percent range are generally expected for holiday 2017, which would make this the best season since 2014.Still, despite the early good news, questions remain about the long-term viability of some retailers and B and C shopping centers. The fact that consumers shopped heavily in physical stores on Black Friday doesn't change the reality that they have a growing preference for online, digital and mobile commerce. Nor does it address the Millennial conundrum — a generation that has so far confounded mall owners.So besides deal-making, the International Council of Shopping Center's New York Deal-Making conference Wednesday and Thursday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center will offer the industry opportunities for some much-needed self-reflection."There's a reset in retail, in general," said David Gorelick, head of retail for the Americas at Cushman & Wakefield. "Retail changes in seven- and 10-year cycles. We’re in that moment. If you look at the way traditional retail was positioned, it never took distribution into consideration. New Commerce [a term coined and trademarked by Cushman & Wakefield, Gorelick said] is a way of doing business along the trajectory of what retail will be. It's streamlining logistics. Sure, there a store closures, but there are also a lot of store openings as well. There are new concepts and new market segments. There's an element of the unknown, and that’s the beauty of it."Tom McGee, president and chief executive officer of the International Council of Shopping Centers, sounded bullish — no surprise there — about the industry's holiday prospects, as 10,000 attendees descend on the organization's convention at the Javits, where the confab is occupying more square footage than ever, including on the second floor."Our forecast is 3.8 percent growth over the holiday season," McGee said. "All indications are that that number will come to fruition. Crowds over the [Black Friday] weekend were strong. We estimate that 150 million people went shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday."The fact that consumers shopped heavily during Black Friday and Cyber Monday won't preclude them from continuing to spend throughout the holiday period, McGee said, noting that ICSC's survey results show the buying continuing. "The reality is that 44 percent of consumers complete their shopping in the last week before Christmas," he said. "The momentum of the first weekend will continue. There's a strong economy, good job market and rising consumer sentiment. All those factors support a strong holiday season."McGee isn't worried about e-commerce eclipsing brick-and-mortar any time soon. "Despite the growth in online over Cyber Monday, store traffic was very strong," he said. "News stories about the size of Cyber Monday sales ignore the fact that absolute holiday spending will be $678 billion, of which online will contribute $100 billion to $105 billion. We expect very strong growth in store sales, but they’re not mutually exclusive. Retail with a strong omni offering will do best."Naveen Jaggi, president of retail brokerage and capital markets at JLL, said where consumers shopped isn't the point — what's important is that they opened their wallets. "Consumer spending is the narrative. There was pent-up demand from consumers," said Jaggi, noting that JLL is predicting a 6 sales percent increase for the Christmas season. "They spent money like we haven’t seen in quite a while. Retail is about consumer confidence and customer spending, and it's the healthiest it's been in 10 years. We're announcing real wage growth and there's a direct tie-in to spending."

William Taubman, chief operating officer of Taubman Centers Inc., said, "We could go on and on about entertainment, experiences and dining as motivators, which they are, but what is less discussed these days but remains critically important is for customers to have immediate access to inventory. Retailers have been focusing on fine-tuning inventory practices to ensure they aren’t taking too much off the floor to appease online customers. Retailers have made good strides in managing inventory so far this holiday season — much better than last year — and I hope this continues."

Among the key buzzwords of the moment, "authentic" and "experience" rank high. Taubman invoked both when discussing the Beverly Center in Los Angeles, which is in the throes of a $500 million renovation scheduled to bow in time for the 2018 holiday season.

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