SANDTON CITY SHOPPING MALLSTOCK JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - 1995

If the retail real estate industry chooses to reinvent itself, its future could be exceedingly bright.

That’s according to an A.T. Kearney report – slated for publication on Feb. 6 – that looks at what the sector could look like in 2030. The report, by Michael Brown, a partner in the firm’s retail practice, sees shopping centers and malls transforming into mixed-used commercial offerings that A.T. Kearney calls consumer engagement spaces. While malls in their heyday were designed to “push” goods to consumers focused on the acquisition of stuff, the new centers are expected to focus more on experiences that have a consumer “pull” so the platforms created are a way to connect people with others who share similar values and aspirations. When looking at that format, designers and operators will have to consider what the role of anchor stores should be, and the possible need to incorporate entertainment, health care and residential areas in the complex.

The report noted that e-commerce is projected to account for a third of all retail sales by 2030. It also noted what many observers of retail have said for years, that the U.S. is overstored given that there is 24 square feet of commercial retail space for every American. That’s compared with a ratio of five square feet per person in the U.K., three square feet in China and two square feet in South Korea.

Successful CES operators are expected to focus on either a specific demographic group or are able to pull together several consumer groups due to a common element or interest. And while 40 percent of all consumers are expected to be digital natives in 2030, the study found that retailers and developers will need to master two sets of technologies, one for personal use to communicate and order one’s life and the other for businesses to identify individual shoppers and track purchases that enable firms to create real-time merchandising promotions.

The study also suggested that developers would also need to reconfigure the mall footprint that used to house parking spaces. With the likelihood of on-demand mobility to replace car ownership, excess parking spaces could be converted to drive-through pick-up centers or space for non-tenant retailers, as well as areas that become green spaces for enjoyment of nature. CES tenants and owners are expected to rely on specific technologies such as big data collection and AI programs to enhance highly curated and frictionless, shopping experiences. They will also have to create experience hubs that incorporate virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality to create unique environments to provide shoppers with sophisticated multisensory experiences.

And finally, successful CES centers are likely to fall into four basic categories: destination centers anchored by large, compelling attractions; value centers anchored by an idea; innovation centers that pool data and ethnographic observation to continuously evolve as the needs to the shoppers change, and “retail-dential” space, or life stage centers that offer demographic-appropriate combination of retail, restaurants, entertainment and services in one complex.

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