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It’s been a bumpy ride for the retail real estate market.

This story first appeared in the November 9, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

For well over a year now, retailers and developers have been battling the impact of global events — from terrorist attacks and the falloff in Chinese spending to the weather — on traffic and tourism. But with new opportunities unfolding, from solutions for enhancing the consumer experience to opening new markets like India and North Africa, it’s full-steam-ahead for the upcoming MAPIC retail real estate fair, which will be its most international show to date. Among the 2,000-plus retail and real estate players expected to attend are France’s Unibail-Rodamco, the U.K.’s Westfield and McArthurGlen Group, the U.S.’s Acadia Realty Trust and IKEA Centres Russia.

Exhibitors from more than 75 countries — including Sweden, Colombia, Iran, Japan and Afghanistan — will showcase future shopping mall projects at the fair, to be held at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes from Nov. 16 to 18.

“The future of the mall offering is rooted in local cultural identities, mixed with international brands,” said Nathalie Depetro, director of MAPIC.

Online-to-off-line, or O2O, will be this year’s theme, with a growing number of pure players opening physical stores and the consumer increasingly moving toward a hybrid, “phy-gital” experience interconnecting online and traditional sales.

Indeed, the relationship between the brick-and-mortar and online retail sectors is becoming more harmonious. According to a study commissioned by MAPIC, 70 percent of consumers search the web before making an in-store purchase, while conversely, 68 percent of consumers research in store before buying online.

“The O2O trend materializes in two ways. First, pure players are increasingly looking at brick-and-mortar trading, in the wake of Amazon opening its first physical bookstore in Seattle. For the first time this year at MAPIC, we have more than 30 pure players exhibiting in the new Specialty Leasing Lounge, seeking opportunities to enter the physical store landscape,” Depetro said. “Consumers are adopting a hybrid client journey, combining web sites and physical store outlets. The dedicated O2O conference track at MAPIC this year aims to shed light on transforming shopping centers into lively mixed-use places for new consumer behavior…namely that of the Millennials.”

Other topics covered in the event’s conference program comprise some 25 sessions and 200 speakers. Those include, on Nov. 16, Luxury & Prestige Retail, with speakers such as Pamela Wolf, director of strategic innovation at Salesforce.com, and Sofiane Bouleghraif, communication and customer care manager at Kenzo, and Leisure & Shopping, with participants including Andy Reif, executive vice president of consumer products, licensing and global experiences for National Geographic Partners. On Nov. 17, a seminar is set to be hosted by Google with Jérôme Marty, country manager of France at Waze, among the slated speakers.

Among the major real estate projects due to be unveiled at the event are Mazar Markaz, which, when completed in the spring, will be Afghanistan’s largest mall; Uplace Brussels, which will boast more than 270 “experience” stores, bars and restaurants, including an Underwater World feature that’s due to open in 2019, and Raffles City Hangzhou, a twin-tower development envisioned as a commercial and cultural center for Hangzhou’s new Central Business District, Qianjing, whose design was inspired by the flow and motion of the tides of the Qiantang River, which it overlooks.

The show will also see a strong British contingency, with Tesco, The Dune Group, New West End Co. and John Lewis Partnership, the U.K.’s largest omnichannel retailer with 46 John Lewis stores and 350 Waitrose supermarkets, headed to MAPIC. Mary Portas, aka the “Queen of the Shops,” one of the U.K.’s most prominent retail gurus, will moderate the market seminar “United Kingdom — Good Morning Retail” on Nov. 17. Kim Gray, head of retail strategy at Heathrow Airport, will speak in a travel retail panel discussion, “Travel Retail — the Sixth Continent for Retailers?” on the same day.

New sections, meanwhile, include the MAPIC Trends Hub, spreading across some 11,000 square feet and showcasing the latest industry trends.

Housed within the hub will be an Innovation Forum where more than 70 companies will present innovative solutions geared to retailers and shopping mall developers, spanning digital signage (Samsung Electronics, ClearChannel, ViaDirect); digital transformation (Symag); indoor mapping (Visioglobe), and data and analytics (Retency, Esri, Coniq), as well as body-scanning technology for retail (Sizzy).

Not forgetting SoftBank Robotics, whose invention, Pepper — billed as the first social humanoid robot capable of understanding and reacting to human emotions — can be programmed in a retail context to welcome customers, drive traffic, collect data and dish out information about products and services.

The new MAPIC Start-up Lounge will see pitches from some 30 start-ups over the three-day event. They include Diakse, Huntertainment and Skyboy, three firms proposing virtual-reality technology geared to enhancing the shopping experience. For example, a famous designer or stylist might appear on customers’ smartphones or tablet screens in front of a point of sale to share shopping tips, or a virtual celebrity might welcome people to the store.

As a sign of its growing pertinence in an increasingly competitive retail sector, meanwhile, the hub’s retail-tainment space has doubled in size to around 6,500 square feet.

“In recent years, the retail-tainment concept, combining leisure with commerce, has been booming on an international scale,” Depetro said. “In today’s digital world, retail-tainment’s appeal is to create a customer experience based on escapism and entertainment — it will be the social glue that will hold retail spaces of the future together. Consumption is now a good way of having fun, rather than leisure being an excuse to consume.”

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