I just got back from the annual research conference of ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers) in San Diego. It was the same bunch of people with a few new faces, but the topics and conversations were very different!
Three years ago everyone was sighing with relief that online sales were not completely replacing bricks and mortar stores. Social media was the personal ads in the local underground newspaper. Web-based demographics and reporting were designed for running trade area reports in your hotel room.
This conference is clear evidence that the real estate research profession is keeping up with the changes in the marketplace! First of all, hats off to the program committee that developed the topics and arranged the presenters. I found myself having a morning conversation with one viewpoint and an evening conversation with a very different viewpoint!
There were three major takeaways from this conference:
- Most companies are trying to move real estate research tools to the web and provide access to dealmakers. This was clear in the “Best Practices” session and the game plan is not just to provide maps and demographics, but analytics as well! The need for “a single version of the truth” in data management was a recurring theme.
- Social media are generating critical data about the “voice of the customer” and changing the way we look at customer profiling, marketing, and merchandising.
- The bricks and mortar store is no longer the only way that shoppers can have a powerful shopping experience with the merchandise. High bandwidth on computers and mobile devices (including tablets) are making it possible to create rich virtual applications such as Me-tail (http://metail.co.uk/how-it-works/) that will continue to feed the growth and market share of online sales.
It’s amazing to look at the last 20 years in the real estate research profession and compare the rate of change in practices and trends in the past three years to the previous 17 years. However, I’m very pleased to see that the more senior members of the group are not being stubborn and sentimental about the past, but embracing the exciting changes and reinventing their practices to be useful and relevant. Maybe it’s driven by concerns about job security, since many of us will be working into our 70’s to pay off college loans. Or maybe we realize that technology may change the way we do things at an unprecedented pace, but the “art” of real estate planning and site selection is based on experience, and we will all have more of that as we get older!
Stay thirsty, my friends.