Scottsdale Quarter Phtography

Making the Retail Experience, Well, An Experience

Shoppers can buy just about anything they’d like or need on the Web. What they can’t do online, however, is make a craft, have their hair done by a blow-dryer-wielding stylist or munch on gourmet snacks delivered to their reserved seats as they’re watching a movie. Call it the retail experience.

It’s non-Web entertainment options such as these that mall developers are banking on to help them compete against online shopping, which over the next four years is expected to reach $327 billion in sales in the U.S. alone, according to Forrester Research Inc. Experience retail represents the future of the mall.

“Experience retail refers to how people enjoy the mall,” said Michael Glimcher, CEO of Glimcher Realty Trust, developer of Scottsdale Quarter, an open-air shopping district located near Scottsdale and Greenway roads. “Today, shopping isn’t about selecting a color and size. You can do that online. You can’t have a salad and glass of wine with girlfriends online. Going to the mall today is about entertainment, brand engagement and socializing with friends and family.”

Scottsdale Quarter has pioneered the concept of experience retail for Glimcher. Since early 2011, the shopping destination has integrated experience-based merchants into its tenant mix, including the addition of several stores and restaurants that shoppers won’t find anywhere else in Arizona. While there are still clothing-only retailers there, more than two thirds of Scottsdale Quarter’s 58 tenants offer shopping experiences and in-person-only opportunities – such as the rear-viewing booty cam at Industrie Denim – that can’t be replicated online.

At Make Meaning, for example, shoppers paint pottery, make soap and decorate picture frames. Nearby at Drybar, salon clients can have their hair straightened or curled by stylists using nothing but a brush and a blow dryer. Fitness enthusiasts tap into their inner peace at Blissful Yoga, where traditional or hot yoga classes, and the gravity-defying Yoga Wall, offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of life.

The experience retail concept exists at other Glimcher properties nationwide including Polaris Fashion Place in Columbus, Ohio; The Outlet Collection | Jersey Gardens outside New York City; the Mall at Johnson City in Tennessee; and River Valley Mall in Lancaster, Ohio. Other national retailers experimenting with the concept include the Shadow Lake Town Center in Omaha, Nebraska, and The Shoppes at Chino Hills in California.

According to Glimcher officials, experience retail benefits all of a mall’s tenants by keeping shoppers at the center for longer periods of time, and by offering people a reason to return. Activities at Make Meaning often have wait lists, so shoppers spend time by eating at the mall’s restaurants or buying merchandise at nearby stores. Crafters must return to pick up their creations also, which means an extra visit and perhaps another stop at a neighboring merchant.

Scottsdale Quarter’s upscale food establishments seem to be doing extraordinarily well with the leasing strategy. Restaurant sales have grown substantially over the last few years, despite the soft economy.

“Experience retail gets people off the computer and into the store,” said Richard Hunt, general manager of Scottsdale Quarter. “It makes shopping fun and interactive, and — as the other developers who have toured Scottsdale Quarter to see what we’re doing can attest — it’s working.”