LAS VEGAS — U.S. retail is being recalibrated. Retailers are slashing doors while malls build experiences. Westfield Corp. is kicking that up a notch, placing its bet on tech.
Its aim: to transform itself from a middle-aged real estate firm to a “proptech company,” cochief executive officer Steven M. Lowy told a crowd during the inaugural Shoptalk conference.
“Our company is 56 years old,” Lowy said. “So we understand the need to change and adapt to stay relevant. We’re in the business of connecting consumers with business and retailers. To continue to do that, you have to continue to adapt. You have to continue to serve your business partners. If you think about our business as [being as] simple as that and the need to adapt and be flexible, all we’re doing is continuing that journey. But now it seems like the journey has sped up.”
The firm in 2012 set up its innovation arm Westfield Labs and followed that up two years later with its Bespoke concept at Westfield San Francisco Centre to provide a space for events, tech demos, shared work areas and, more recently, an accelerator program.
“We’re spending as much time on technology as we are on real estate,” Lowy said.
His remarks come ahead of next week’s International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual RECon global conference that will bring shopping center owners, developers, brokers and others in the retail business to Las Vegas to hash out deals and talk trends.
For Westfield, it’s spending some $10.5 billion on new and future developments, one of those being the $800 million redo of the Westfield Century City mall. It’s a fitting project in a market that’s seeing new niche developments and redevelopments rise in the way of a makeover for the Beverly Center mall, Platform in Culver City, Row DTLA in Los Angeles and Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach, among others.
The Century City project includes expanded space and more parking, new restaurants, Wi-Fi and a number of apps being tested to improve the visitor experience.
“When Century City opens next year, it’s going to look nothing like what the traditional malls look like,” Lowy vowed.
Even with the injection of gadgetry, wiring, apps and more data than some retailers may know what to do with, the physical mall at the end of the day must win people over by creating the excitement, interactive environments, entertainment, food and leisure that can’t be delivered via a screen. Those are all key areas of focus for Westfield as it looks at its real estate portfolio and sheds those properties that may not be able to respond to the broader market shift taking hold.
“Retailing just happens to be part of the equation today,” Lowy said. “It used to be the whole equation.”