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‘Year of the department store’ sign of good things to come

By Dan Orlando

Brick-and-mortar retailers shouldn’t be afraid of online retail – they just have to make their store experience more interesting.

That was one of the topics discussed along with the state of the retail market in NYC at a recent ULI Fall Conference panel at the Javits Center.

Douglas Elliman Retail Chair Faith Hope Consolo joined J. Rodgers Kniffen WWE CEO Jan Rodgers Kniffen, and the Fung Business Intelligence Center executive director/head of global retail research Deborah Weinswig for the Shopping Laboratory: New York City as a Global Center of Retail and Other Global Retail Trends panel.

Faith Consolo
Faith Consolo

“There’s New York and then there’s the rest of the world,” said Consolo. “You can talk about the emerging markets; you can talk about the investors (but) everybody wants, of course, to not only be in New York but in in the U.S.”
Consolo discussed the recent surge of activity in the retail sector of Manhattan which is “expanding tremendously” and expressed confidence that ever-emerging trends like online shopping will not be rattling the market.

“This has been the year of the department store,” Consolo said. “Nordstrom signed a deal. Saks signed for two deals down in Fidi. Macy’s is negotiating in Harlem. Lord & Taylor is also seeking another location which is unusual.”

“New York is a magnet. We’re building mega malls,” she said.

Despite the far from stagnant nature of the current retail climate, the panel did discuss the obvious threats that the future could hold for brick and mortar locations.

Consumers are growing more and more accustomed to the convenience of shopping digitally from the comfort of home, panelists said.

As tech savvy millennials continue to grow older and make more purchases, their inclination to shop online will be compounded by technological improvements to the experience.

“We’re trying to help the retailers make it a lot more interesting and fun and exciting,” said Weinswig. “Imagine if you could go into a store and have a 3D MakerBot replicator in the store.”

Weinswig conceded that physical retail locations for major brands may need to offer more than a rack of goods in order to generate foot traffic.

Customizable products that can be created on demand could be an answer to the digital experience.

Kniffen agreed that changes would come, but was less optimistic about the future value of brick and mortar.

“Deb thinks it will be inside one of their shops, I think it will be in your house,” said Kniffen who believes that the near future will include advanced 3D printing technology in the average American home.

“When you want that shirt, it will all be designed,” he continued. “The people who make the money will provide the design.”

What the future holds is ultimately yet to be seen, but even Consolo admits that there will likely be peaks and valleys as always. She’s both confident and prepared.

“I don’t think euphoria, I’ve been there,” said Consolo. “I’ve been through three downturns. But in downturns you make different kinds of deals,” she said.

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