Retail Experiencing Disruption, Not Death

Article originally posted on HERE on May 9, 2019

It’s easy to see the bad-news stories about bricks-and-mortar stores shuttering from the overwhelming move of consumers to e-commerce.

But I don’t think this form of retail will ever die completely.

Rather, there is a disruption to the way we’ve known it to be. Commercial real estate landlords will have to navigate their way through this new landscape.

I think it’s kind of ironic that we’re almost returning to our roots. Ordering goods from the comfort of our couch; but I’m not describing Amazon or eBay.

Online is the new catalogue

Have we all forgotten catalogues?!

The earliest catalogue was published in 1498 and was a book advertising, well, books. The first mail-order catalogue in North America was reportedly Tiffany’s Blue Book in 1845.

Most familiar to Canadians would be the T. Eaton Co. catalogue, which was first issued in 1884. Sears Canada was still publishing catalogues right up to the 2016 Wishbook.

Catalogues served a market of consumers who weren’t located near traditional retail, allowing them to access items at a fair market value.

I wouldn’t say Amazon is far off.

Other disrupting forces

I think it’s fair to say the mass introduction of the credit card in the 1950s likely changed retail in a huge way.

The rise of television as an advertising medium during the ’70s and ’80s also had a huge impact on how consumers made buying decisions.

A recent disruptor many of us easily remember is the move from interior malls to big box centres, which I’d classify as my least favourite!

The internet is another recent disruptor.

What do the retail experts say?

I was able to attend the Saskatchewan Real Estate Forum in April and listened to a few panelists representing traditional retail leasing, including interior malls. They pointed to large vacancies as the biggest challenge to their portfolios.

There is no one in the market to fill the void left by a Sears or Target, so landlords are having to reimagine the spaces while balancing the input costs of converting the vacancy to more tenancies.

They are locking down renewals early and offering inducements to keep tenants in place. Overall, they were upbeat and maintained there is a role for bricks and mortar in our future.

Saskatchewan, it was noted, has always been an anomaly when it comes to national retailers; often considered too small to host large retailers, but right on the edge of being too big to ignore anymore.

We are uniquely positioned to welcome many retailers that have not yet been to our market.

In Saskatchewan, I think it’s just a matter of riding the wave to see where retail heads next.

 

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