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credit: Marc Peter
credit: Marc Peter


A crisis forces us to think in new and different ways. It is a challenge – but finally, almost always, it leads up to new ideas and helps to speed up the much-needed change, states Caroline von Westerholt, Head of Strategy & Repositioning of Retail Properties at Twenty One Media GmbH. She explains her biggest learnings from the current crisis.

By Caroline von Westerholt

Our outlook on the future is positive: the long-needed change within the retail real estate branch has finally been accelerated. We learned a lot from this crisis.

Even before covid times were not easy for retail real estate. But, covid and the upcoming energy crisis just sped up the already long expected and necessary process of change. The wound points of social distancing and online shopping hurting the retail real estate industry since years were the strongest challenges to deal with and with the covid and energy crisis they were finally pushed to the extreme.

But surprisingly, something different than the expected retail real estate exodus happened.

The current crisis showed that people need physical interaction, they need physical inspiration, they are loyal to brands that share the same values and show us new ways to get the retail real estate business flourishing again and which actions will lead to a successful future.

For us in the retail real estate positioning and branding there are three very positive findings– whether it is B2B or B2C – that showed a positive impact on the business:

1. Share the value of sustainability and bring it to action: the reward will be paid by steady footfall

Let’s not talk – let’s do something and move forward. That does not mean to just jump in. Sustainability is a complex subject, but success and innovation only come from doing something. The customer and the tenants alike demand a structured approach to the matter. And will reward it.

The fear of being accused of greenwashing also is no excuse anymore. If the customer sees the efforts and/or compensations towards sustainability, he is willed to forgive that a business is not 100% green yet. What the customer does not forgive is not trying at all. If you do it right, sustainability is a great way to win new customers – and to keep the loyal ones.

2. Become a real community with your B2B costumers: it will be your most important B2C campaign.

One key learning even though it is very simple, is focus on your costumers. And with customers we mean the brands, business partners and newcomers in this case. B2B gets more and more important because you have to go out of your way to get new tenants. You must stay in touch with current trends and new markets because we do not make the trends but rather host them in the form of our tenants.

Brand collaborations in media or events, offering pop up stores or creating spectacular nonpermanent show rooms work marketing wise on B2B level and create fascinating and always new exciting B2C customer experiences. Connecting with potential tenants and in the same way creating exciting customer adventures. Two birds with one stone, how can it get better? Be open and connect with B2B players in the community, institutions or other brands; it will be the best B2C campaign!

3. Retail real estate means human interaction

The retail business is no longer only a place to quickly buy something. It also means real human interactions, and for that you do not need the perfect store. What we all need – and especially the B2C customer – is humanity. Humanity is on trend right now on all channels of communication, physical as well as online.

Social media does not have to be the perfect image or the error free text anymore. People want to be reached emotionally, interact with each other. They do not want to see a perfectly designed store front. They want to get to know the tenant, learn more about the salesperson – they want to communicate.

Isolation, social distancing and quarantine showed just how much humans crave physical communication – opposed to the trend of digitalization in the last decades. Digital communication does not replace the coziness and the overall experience of communicating face to face. The retail real estate has the chance to fill this void, to become a marketplace again. A place for interaction, events, inspiration, and experiences. Nobody wants to miss the barista who greets them with a smile every morning!

So, our biggest learning is: Physical retail real estate is and still will be the marketplace of the future – by showing humanity, social responsibility and providing a chatty vibrant community.

Caroline von Westerholt, Twenty One Media
Caroline von Westerholt, Twenty One Media

Caroline von Westerholt holds a degree in real estate economics and is the Head of Strategy & Repositioning of Retail Properties at Twenty One Media GmbH (Germany). Prior to that, she spent nine years as the Director of Development for Urban Districts at MAB Development GmbH and five years in Asset & Portfolio Management for Commercial Real Estate at Provinzial Versicherung.