Technology Shifts the Retail Landscape for Open Air Centers

ICSC's OAC Summit 2019

I just returned from ICSC's OAC Summit, which was held in Austin last week.  For those how have not yet attended this conference, the OAC is not a deal making conference like many other ICSC conferences.  Rather, the OAC is a relationship building and information sharing event, attended largely by high level executives whose companies have properties or stores in open air centers or mixed-use projects.  Attendance is usually limited to about 450 people, although it was increased to over 600 this year because of the venue.

Technology was certainly a theme this year. Kara Swisher (Recode), an expert on the technology industry, gave a fascinating keynote on the how technology is driving both innovation and disruption.  Paige Fitzgerald of Waymo talked about how autonomous vehicles (meaning no one in the driver's seat) will change the retail landscape in the not so distant future.  Her presentation included videos of Waymo employees riding in autonomous vehicles in Phoenix.  Deborah Weinswig (Coresight Research) moderated a panel on new approaches to research and technology in a shifting demographic landscape.  Panelists Stuart Aitken (Kroger), David Huntoon (Intalytics) and Rachel Elias Wein (Wein Plus) spoke about how they each use technology to enhance their (or their client's business), including identifying additional revenue sources.  Ross Cooper (Kimco) moderated an intriguing panel consisting of Vibhu Norby (B8ta), Joel Anderson (Five Below) and Tom Kingsbury (Burlington).  Vibhu provided the prospective of a technology entrepreneur who developed a new retail model and recently expanded his business by going off-line (meaning into bricks and mortar stores).  Vibhu mentioned in a passing that, when he first thought about taking his company off-line, he googled "how to build a store."  Fascinating.

Not all of the presentations focused just on technology. There was a presentation on the opportunities presented by the new Opportunity Zones created by the 2017 tax reform law.  Also, Ben Schall (Seritage) moderated an very interesting panel consisting of Hilary Spann (Canada Pension Investment Board), Justin Stewart (Industrious) and Jeff Weinhaus (Equinox).  This panel discussed modern-day mixed-used environments, including the integration of retail, health and wellness, co-working and multi-family and the reimaging of the building's lobby.

The attendees acknowledge that we are in a new world where retail real estate needs to evolve to remain relevant.  Rather than keeping their heads in the sand, many of these retail executives are embracing change (including the role that technology is playing) and developing strategies that will best position their companies for success.