PREVIEW: Armageddon or renaissance? ICSC takes a reality check

Changing consumer patterns, relentless leaps in technology and shifting demographics - few property sectors face such an onslaught of challenges as retail. ICSC’s European conference in Barcelona on 10-11 April will take a reality check on the state of play in the industry with a broad line-up of panels and presentations.

Setting the stage on the opening day of the two-day conference, a panel discussion entitled Armageddon or Renaissance? – Let the Debate Begin! will see ICSC’s European chairman Peter Wilhelm lock horns with Bill Kistler, ICSC’s managing director for EMEA, on the challenges and opportunities facing the sector.

In the afternoon, a panel focussed on investors will explore the question of whether now is the time to buy or sell retail property, given the challenges arising from new leasing structures, store closures, downward pressure on rents and difficulties in raising capital.

The much-heard debate surrounding the ‘halo effect’ – how pure-play e-commerce companies are leveraging a physical presence to help increase overall sales – will come under the spotlight in an afternoon session on the first day. This theme is picked up on the second day of the conference with a discussion focused on how Chinese online retailer Alibaba is taking the ‘bricks and mortar’ route in an effort to merge the online and offline realms. Entitled Virtual Fusion – Beyond Bricks & Clicks, the session will examine Alibaba’s ‘New Retail’ initiative which includes a strong emphasis on physical retail. Alibaba has opened 65 stores and partnered with over one million independent retail stores across China in an effort to boost its overall presence.

The position of retail landlords and how they are meeting consumer needs will come under scrutiny during a session on the second day entitled ‘Landlord & Tenant – Turning Adversaries into Partners’. It will explore collaborative business models and how these can support retailers to achieve their maximum sales potential. The session will be followed by a presentation on how landlords can use data more effectively to provide better insights that can in turn translate into better results.

Turning to the consumer, a presentation by leading consumer & shopper behaviouralist Ken Hughes will look at Generation Z and how these young shoppers impact retailers’ business models. Unlike the Millennials, Generation Z has grown up in an omnichannel world and will account for 40% of the population in the US and Europe by 2020.

The conference will close on an optimistic note. The final session, Thriving in Challenging Times, will pinpoint the opportunities ‘for those who can see past the doom and gloom’.