Opinion

SANS ESPRIT

When the entire European shopping center industry meets in Cannes this year, there will be lots of back patting.

BY REINHARD WINIWARTER

Although there is little doubt that many of the show’s participants seriously and critically examine their own actions and key industry themes and trends, others will stride through the Palais de Cinéma betraying a high level of complacency. They will rave about the flexibility, innovation, and the spirit of the shopping center industry. To be fair, that does seem partially justified in a few cases, at least. In general, however, I have to say that “Europe’s” handling of commercial property unfortunately seems to be backward-looking rather than forward-looking. Innovation is the exception rather than the rule.

At a time when life, living conditions, lifestyle, and consumers’ shopping habits are changing drastically, the shopping center industry is ready with only one answer: always more of the same. “A fish rots from the head,” as they say. Driven by capital and benchmarks, the investor tanker plots a leisurely course on the high seas. Short-term maneuvers are difficult to accomplish due to inertia, risk aversion, and ever longer development cycles. At best, innovations are taken on when they have been tested and found to be good elsewhere first. The basic premise of shopping center development thus still seems to be the “largest possible lettable area.”

Positive approaches – such as improved service quality and service levels – ought now to be taken for granted. To be honest: raising the proportion of gastronomy areas in a center hasn’t been “innovative” in a long time – it’s more of a necessity.

The innovation somnambulism is particularly clear when the shopping center industry is compared with retail. By the time new ideas, formats, and channels pioneered by retailers have become anchored in the minds of the industry, they have long since become old hat. The tanker steers onto a seemingly promising course only occasionally. I am fully thrilled by the isolated attempts of a few companies to redefine the shopping center of the future as a lifestyle center with municipal functions. After all, those who want consumers to spend quality time in a center must ultimately provide more than a contiguous block of lettable space. Shopping nowadays is no longer just shopping. And the time when shopping centers could be developed with impunity without engaging with consumers is over.

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