Possibly not since the first enclosed mall opened in 1956 in Edina, Minnesota, has brick and mortar retail experienced such a pivotal point in its history. Most would attribute the changing retail environment to the effects of e-commerce and the Goliath that is Amazon; however, we believe there are more powerful factors at work.
In-store brick and mortar retail sales accounted for more than 89% of total retail sales in 2016, and early indications seem to point to 2017 being the best holiday shopping season in 4 years. So, if people are still shopping at brick and mortar stores, why do we hear the term “retail apocalypse” every time we turn on CNBC or pick up a Wall Street Journal?
The End Of The Department Store Era—Not Brick And Mortar
What we are seeing is not the demise of brick and mortar retail, but more the end of the department store era. Department-store-anchored malls that sold everything from apparel and electronics to furniture and home appliances dominated the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. But specialized big-box retailers have steadily eroded the department store model over the last three decades.
Eventually, we were left with malls anchored by department stores that focused on just a few categories centered on apparel. Does this mean that we will soon see the end of department stores and enclosed malls? Yes and no.
We will continue to see enclosed malls struggle to compete with convenience/grocery-anchored centers, experience-based shopping destinations, open-air lifestyle centers like Bridge Street Town Centre, and local specialty destinations such as The Garage at Clinton Row. Many malls will be able to adapt and survive with the addition of entertainment venues, hotels, and even office space. Others will simply disappear from the landscape to be replaced by a more modern retail and entertainment experience as we are seeing take place at the site of the old Madison Square Mall.
As far as the old department store is concerned, we are already seeing the same type of adaption into a more mixed offering of services and experiences. Many department stores are starting to reduce the size of the sales floor to make room for cafés, salons, pop-up shops, and even fitness concepts. Not all department stores will survive, but the ones that do will be more focused on the high-end specialty categories and customer experience. Instead of existing for exclusively for retail sales, they will provide a total experience and numerous services in one convenient location.
What Does The Future Look Like?
What can consumers expect the retail environment to look like in the future? Currently, the trend is what is called omni-channel retail. This is a combination of brick and mortar stores with online and mobile sales. As evidenced by Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, e-commerce retailers are getting into the physical storefront game. It appears they understand the value of physical storefronts and their impact on the bottom-line. Sure, online shopping is convenient, but does it result in sales?
Research has shown that over 40% of items purchased online are returned. Furthermore, consumers make a purchase at a rate of 20% of the time when they walk into an actual store. That rate drops to 3% when visiting a website. The successful retailer of the future will be able to combine online, mobile/social media, and physical locations to create a positive experience for the customer.
One issue that is flying under the radar is the new tax reform bill and its impact on retailers. A reduction in the corporate tax rate could have a significant influence on the ability of brick and mortar retailers to compete with e-commerce retailers. With the reduction of the corporate tax rate, the savings experienced by the retailers can be used for an investment into omni-channel/mobile platforms, upgrading stores, or simply lowering prices to compete with e-commerce.
A Theme Of Adaptation
In conclusion, we continue to believe that the future is bright for both retailers and landlords. Once again, the theme continues to be adaptation. Traditional retailers are building their online presence and e-commerce retailers are getting into the bricks and mortar game. This environment creates opportunities for landlords that have the vision to meet the changing demands of consumers and the needs of the omni-channel retailer. It’s certainly an interesting time in retail, but one that can bring exciting changes to the benefit of everyone.
Have questions about the changing retail market? Wondering how you can adapt in 2018? You can contact Zac at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 256-536-8809.
Originally from Tennessee, Zac studied business management at Samford University. After moving to Huntsville in 2001, Zac started out his career in banking, wealth management, and financial planning. In 2010 he joined Crunkleton and has since become the VP of Leasing for the commercial real estate group where he focuses on retail leasing and development.