RECon 2018: A Pivotal Year in Retail’s History

Shopping Center Business reports from ICSC RECon 2018 about the continued evolution of the retail sector. Shopping Center Business reports from ICSC RECon 2018 about the continued evolution of the retail sector.

There is change, and then there is change. While talk has been rampant for the past couple of years that the industry is evolving in ways never before seen, 2018 seems to be the pinnacle of that momentum, according to many attendees at ICSC’s RECon, taking place May 20 to 23, at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

“While there are a lot of trends that have been coming over the past few years, this will probably go down in history as the year where the dichotomies in retail — between shopping and entertainment and between online and brick-and-mortar sales — cease to exist,” said RECon attendee Kevin Maggiacomo, president and CEO of SVN. “There's a lot of talk about what's next in retail. I think this show is going to be where ‘what's next’ becomes ‘what is.’”

kevinKevin Maggiacomo, SVN

“Technology,” “omnichannel” and “experiential” have been significant buzzwords for some time. This year, however, it seems that most developers, retailers and investors are moving away from theoretical discussions of these concepts in favor of swift action. From social media to new point of sale tools, interactive displays and artificial intelligence, the future of retail is no longer a far-off concept the industry should monitor on the horizon, it’s staring us directly in the face.

“There is recognition at RECon that the retail world has changed and will continue to do so,” said attendee Dan Sheridan, a partner at Hoffman Strategy Group. “There is excitement about the opportunities for new ideas and new solutions these changes bring.”

DanDan Sheridan, Hoffman Strategy Group

Becoming a Digital Native

The conference itself has offered a variety of expert insights into how one can face the new retail revolution. Session topics spanned from “Online to Offline: Digitally Native Brands and Their Expansion into Brick and Mortar,” to “Retail and E-commerce in the Post-Department Store Era,” and “The Next 25 Years: Preparing for the Future of Retail and Mixed-Use.” ICSC’s Innovation Exchange also gave attendees interactive, hands-on access to the concepts many believe will define the future of retail. This included humanoid robots, 3D renderings, grab-and-go shops similar to Amazon Go that are line- and checkout-free, body scanning, virtual reality marketing platforms and IoT(internet of things)-integrated platforms that bring e-commerce-style shopper analytics to brick-and-mortar retailers.

“This year’s conference has been very active and there are some innovative new things that are drawing interest,” says Brent Ball, senior vice president of Kennedy Wilson. “One of the most exciting things is the immersion of technology in the retail industry. The new Innovation Lab in front of the North Hall demonstrates how artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality will enhance the retail shopping experience. All of this will change how retail is conducted moving forward. The shopping experience will be more engaging, technologically informative, personalized and entertaining.”

brent ballBrent Ball, Kennedy Wilson

No longer are decision-makers debating the merits of going digital or waiting to see how these strategies play out for their competitors. They’re making actual decisions to join the digital revolution as they attempt to enhance the customer experience through personalization, efficiency and enjoyment. In an ironic twist of fate, most retail developers are actually embracing technology to recoup in-store sales that have been lost to technology-driven e-commerce.

“This technological transformation needs to happen in order for brick-and-mortar locations to be more engaging and personalized for the customer,” Ball continued. “It’s an exciting time and it demonstrates the reinvention of how retail locations will interact with their customer base moving forward.”

Many attendees also believe retail activity is up in general as e-commerce and brick-and-mortar continue to learn to play on the same team. This notion may seem counterintuitive to the doom and gloom surrounding bankruptcy and store closure announcements from retailers that were traditionally shopping center cornerstones, but retail experts believe these closures offer opportunity.

“Yes, some retailers are facing headwinds, but for every one of them that is hurting, there are many that want to take their place,” Maggiacomo said. “Retail, as a product sector, is doing fine. Net absorption was up again in the first quarter of this year, and we see healthy economic growth. I hope this is the year that, once and for all, the idea that ‘retail is dying’ finally dies.”

— By Nellie Day, contributing writer. This article originally appeared in the Retail Insight newsletter by Shopping Center Business, a six-week publication leading up to ICSC RECon and including post-conference coverage. Click here to subscribe and to see archived newsletters.