What to Expect at ICSC RECon 2017

By: Erin Robinson

ICSC RECon, the retail real estate industry’s most anticipated, heavily attended and highly valued annual event, is just over a week away. What should the 37,000+ attendees expect to see and hear this year?

The sky is falling…right?
Recent retail headlines have trumpeted significant store closing announcements from more than a dozen major players, including Macy’s, JC Penney and The Limited, and full blown bankruptcies from brands like Gander Mountain and Payless. While conversations about these negative events are unavoidable at RECon, we anticipate that many real estate professionals will focus on the upside of these downsides—the industry evolution that is unfolding in real time.

People are nervous, and rightfully so. Attendees need to acknowledge that change is required (and already well underway), leveraging this important industry gathering of great minds to discuss how, when and what to change.

Customer-focused experiences
Creating an experience is not a new concept in the commercial real estate industry. It has been one of the hottest ICSC RECon topics for several years—for good reason. The industry generally is still figuring it out. Several years ago, it was widely agreed upon that consumers would always want an in-store experience because they wanted to touch and interact with the product they’re buying. And then the narrative shifted to convenience and, more specifically, online shopping. The role of stores changed. And this has led to a relatively dramatic shift in thinking.

Developers have recognized that retail is no longer the primary draw to a center. As a result, they have upped the ante with enhanced dining options, events and entertainment features. Retail property owners and managers are no longer rating the success of their centers (at least they shouldn’t be!) by how quickly transactions are occurring. Rather, they are looking for and innovating creative ways to draw consumers in and, most importantly, keep them there longer. A sale isn’t imminent during every visit. Consumers now expect—and demand—to be wooed.

Tackling technology
At this year’s RECon, the integration of technology into the physical store—and vice versa—will generate significant buzz. Today’s experience isn’t all online or all in-store. It’s both.

Retailers are navigating the waters of bringing digital components to the physical store (think augmented reality and real time ordering) and formerly online-only retailers are, in many cases, establishing a brick-and-mortar presence to engage with consumers in more meaningful and personal ways.

Similar to the current evolution of retailers, mall and shopping center owners are making some significant tech shifts. Take, for example, the Westfield’s San Francisco innovation lab—Westfield Labs.  A searchable mall with point and click capabilities available for more than 4 million products and intimate innovation showrooms are among the current initiatives.

So what’s next? How will technology continue to play a role in real estate experiences? Who will deliver the next bold consumer engagement concept? Will Amazon—the elephant in the room—be successful with new brick-and-mortar concepts like Amazon Go? These will all be pressing questions on the ground in Las Vegas.

Stay tuned for our next pre-RECon post, highlighting how to maximize media visibility during this critical event.