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Commercial Real Estate

CRE Opinion: Retail Tools to Stay Relevant

Retail failures have always been with us. But today, we have more tools to stay relevant.

In a recent episode of a TV comedy set in the 1980s, the mother character shows up at her favorite department store, Gimbels. Once there, she finds a going-out-of-business sign. Dismayed, she wonders how a powerhouse like Gimbels could fail.

She exclaims in shock, “That’s like saying Blockbuster Video shut down, or B. Dalton Books, or Circuit City.”

As we all know, each of those retailers, along with many others, are no longer in business, despite their one-time dominance. (Gimbels, in fact, was once the country’s largest department store chain, famed as the locale for the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street.)

All failed for various reasons, but most importantly was their failure to recognize and react to retail trends. And despite all of the focus on retailers closing today, these failures are not a new phenomenon. The fact is, retailers have always been subject to failure if they fall behind the competition, as Gimbels did during the long-ago 1980s.

But retailers today have tools at their disposal that yesterday’s concepts could only dream of.

They have multiple channels to reach their target customers before, during, and after visits to the store,

They can create loyal customers through a mix of marketing, digital and brick-and-mortar outreach, and they can enhance sales by being everywhere the customer shops, whether that’s in the store, on a desktop or smartphone.

But what can we, the development and property management community, do to help our retail tenants succeed?

We have to first consider the customer, who as noted has more options for purchases than ever before. To ensure retail center success in this environment, we must consider what today’s customer wants:

  • Communications that are personalized and relevant
  • Shopping centers that are convenient and experiential
  • Offers that are tailored to the customer’s needs and preferences

Easier said than done, right? So what steps can we, as retail property managers or professionals, consider? For our managed retail portfolio, they include:

  • Custom websites and search engine optimization (SEO) for each center to ensure it achieves a high ranking when customers are searching the web. SEO can tell us in real time what works—and what doesn’t.
  • Digital and social media strategies aligned with the center’s and its retailers’ objectives and which speak directly to immediate trade area residents and professionals.
  • Certified marketing professionals maintaining the program and measuring results against objectives.
  • The opportunity to participate in highly strategic digital ad campaigns that capture active users within a 2- or 3-mile area of the shopping center. We work with our retailers on targeted, but very affordable, Facebook and other digital campaigns.

Without a doubt, today’s retailers and retail professionals face a challenging environment. But now, more than ever, we have the tools to understand those challenges and turn them into opportunities.

Marshall Mills is president and CEO of Dallas-based Weitzman.

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