The Socialization of Real Estate

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by: David Polinchock

Had an interesting conversation last night with Pat Esgate and Greg Beck last night about the changing needs of retail today. Part of our conversation was spurred by two things:


  • A conversation that Greg related about asking a 13 year old when was the last time she went into a record store. She said she never goes to a record store, she buys her music online. We asked the youngster of our office, Mitali, and she confirmed that. She doesn't go into music stores either.
  • A new retail concept being developed by Sheldon Gordon. Here's a brief overview:

    Sometime near the end of 2006, the complex, called Epicenter, is scheduled to open in Columbus at the Polaris Fashion Place. The nucleus of Epicenter will consist of two parts – the Buypod, a hand-held electronic device, and electronic kiosks located throughout the mall.  

    Under the concept, customers will enter the mall and register their credit card information, which will then be put into their Buypods. As customers browse merchandise, they can use their Buypod – which, as the name suggests, looks something like an Apple iPod – to scan the labels of items they want to buy.

    Although a small number of items will available to take home, most orders will be sent directly to the warehouse, where they will be filled and shipped. The electronic kiosks will print receipts and can be used to cancel orders, if needed.

    According to Anthony Lee, Epicenter's chief executive, Internet and catalogue retailers can use Epicenter to establish a place where their customers can feel, and in some cases try on, merchandise. The Epicenter design also offers the low overhead and reduced need for sales staff that online and catalogue retailers are accustomed to. Mr. Lee would not reveal the names of the "small" number of retailers who had signed up for Epicenter, but he said that "interest runs very high." 

    Then I ran across this post, Experience the Message: THE HUMAN TOUCH:

    The Hollywood Reporter has a brief interview with Judith Regan, the publisher and media mogul, for the "future of entertainment" special. Surprisingly, the woman whom made millions with tawdry tell-all books, political muckraking and celebrity gossip, sees the future as a step away from the "pornoization" of American culture.

    In doing so, she echoes experiential marketers' calls for a humanization of marketing, and of using real people to engage with other real people, instead of the mindless gloss of traditional marketing and advertising.

    "The central problem in America is loneliness, which comes out of consuming all this pop culture and yet, not having human experiences. I call it the "pornoization" of the culture. If you look at where the culture is going, there is no love, there is no tenderness. The images my daughter sees are devoid of love. I actually see in the future that simulating love or some authentic human experience will become what people desire and what they want to pay for." 

    It made me think of how often we eat at Burger King just because they have an indoor playground. And it's not just about the actual playground. It's Sydney's desire to play with a group of other children her age and the social aspect of that experience. It's not about the food there (sorry Burger King!), it's about it being a Third Place for Sydney.

    It made us ask the question, what is the value of real estate for retailers today? Does a record store really need to exist as it's been for the past 40+ years? Or banks, grocery stores, fashion retailers? If, thanks to the internet, people are much more comfortable getting their purchases sent to them, rather then getting them right away, do we need that much space dedicated to merchandise? So, if we can do away with the inventory portion of most retail spaces today, what else would you do with the space? How could you make it a much more social environment, rather then being a retail environment? After all, this is exactly why places like Starbuck's or the Apple stores have boomed — they created a social space, rather then a retail space.

    But, while people look at Starbuck's or the Apple stores and say "Yea, that's great for them, but it doesn't apply to me," I think that they're missing a huge opportunity today. I think there's a coming trend to socialize the retail environment instead of just merchandising the real estate space. And the more we try to use the space for our purposes (see my previous post on my presentation from the At Retail Media Expo) rather then our guests, the more they'll stay away. We'll be tracking this trend in the future, so look for updates!

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