Three major takeaways from EEE 2019 on the future of retail spaces

Over two days at Shopping Center Business’ Entertainment Experience Evolution (EEE) conference, I heard one refrain again and again: Know your customers and make an emotional connection with them. What does this mean for the future of retail? Here are three of my takeaways from EEE 2019 that help answer this question.

Technology fuels your relationship with your customer

Both landlords and retailers are using evolving technology to get to know consumers.

One way is through geofencing, which has traditionally been used to push coupons, notifications, and other messages to phones that enter a certain area. Now retailers and landlords are using this technology to determine where customers are coming from – and where they may go throughout the day – so they can better understand customer behavior and travel patterns to better serve them accordingly.

Technology is also enabling retailers and restaurants to do more with fewer workers in a tight labor market. For example, in restaurants, servers increasingly have mobile credit card readers so they can process a transaction instantly at a table. This time savings, over the course of a full day, adds up and it impacts not only the customer but the restaurant staff as well.

Experiences trump products for millennials and Gen Z

One speaker said, “By 2023, 50 percent of all shoppers will have been born after 1980.” These consumers are much less interested in buying goods; they want experiences that are unique and shareable – as a few panelists stated, they want “Instagramable” moments. There are several new entertainment concepts such as escape rooms, virtual reality experiences, and wave machines for indoor surfing that are doing just that.

One mold-breaking retail concept is Meow Wolf, an art and technology installation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s immersive and interactive and has been a huge draw, even if visitors sometimes struggle to describe exactly what it is! Meow Wolf – Santa Fe attracts 500,000 visitors a year in a market where there are only 100,000 people. New locations in Las Vegas and Denver are set to open over the next couple of years.

Sports can increasingly play into the success of a shopping center. iFly, an indoor skydiving experience in which participants float on a column of air, was originally conceived for those wanting to learn how to skydive. Since then it’s evolved into its own sport with teams and competitions. Arenas for football, basketball, baseball games, and other sports are almost all limited as games may not occur daily. With retail offerings like indoor skydiving, those engagements could be activated all the time, drawing customers and spectators with authentic, unique, and shareable experiences. These entertainment concepts yield experiences millennials and Gen Z can share with their peers as well as their followers on social media.

Sites are now catering to niche audiences

A retail center or experience can’t be all things to all people. As one speaker put it, “what works in one market doesn’t necessarily work in others.” In response, retailers and landlords are increasingly catering to specific groups, creating new experiences that are unique to the community they’re serving. A successful niche project knows their market and target audience and know how to deliver the right mix of uses and experiences that make an emotional connection to the customer.

Some examples include:

  • The Wave, a wave pool and surf park in Virginia Beach, VA
  • The Bellevue Collection, a high-end mixed-use project in Bellevue, WA
  • Oxigeno, a “human playground” in Costa Rica
  • Rock Row, a mixed-use project with entertainment incorporating an old quarry turned into a lake and a railroad in Portland, ME

Selection of the right food and beverage purveyors that cater to the niche market is key to project success.  People decide where to spend their money based on the food and beverage experience.

The future of retail merchandising should line up with what consumers want. According to the speakers at EEE 2019, technology can assist in giving customers the unique and shareable experiences they crave.

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