BY HARRY MARK, FAIA
Last week I was in Cartagena, Colombia to attend the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) annual conference focusing on Latin America and the Caribbean. It was enlightening to be a part of conversations that recognized that retail is not dead, as one might believe from the North American press. Across many different lectures and presentations there were a few consistent themes that resonated amongst the international roster of speakers: retail is in a renaissance, convergence of digital and brick & mortar retail, omnichannel retailing, transformation, evolution, and the curated experience.
It was also encouraging to see examples of how retail projects within Latin America truly have evolved to become centers of the community and mixed-use environments that are important destinations and gathering places within these communities. The line appears to blur between commercial importance and civic responsibility. This convergence of uses and experiences is also seen in the blurred lines of the digital retail experience and the physical retail experience of the traditional brick and mortar stores. Both Neil Stern of McMillan|Doolittle and Skyler Fernandes of Venture University had interesting talks on the blurred lines of the two platforms citing many examples of how retail is transitioning….from retail to hospitality with a Muji Hotel in Shenzhen, retail showrooms such as B8ta in Santa Monica, renting clothes from Le Tote, and having breakfast at Tiffany’s in New York.
Bad retail is dying. Good retail is thriving and is incredibly exciting. It’s a fascinating time to be in the middle of this inevitable transition in the industry and see how experiential retail is creating some engaging and creative mash-ups. Retail has always changed and this evolution is just a part of the natural cycle of our consumer-based economy. It was interesting to learn that 60% of the people in Latin America are below 37 years old and it’s great to be observing how the retail industry is evolving to cater to Millennials, and Generations X, Y, and Z.