I’ve been talking to a lot of people about best practices in real estate planning and site selection during the past year. Many of my observations and insights have appeared in this blog since May 2011. Looking ahead to the next year, there is evidence that some of the “forward looking” comments from last year will begin to appear in the practices of leading companies in 2012.
Retail store sales during the 2011 holiday season were flat compared to last year (there are so many stats I don’t even want to quote one). The bigger news was the increase in online sales, and the biggest news of all was the increase in purchases from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. This puts “teeth” in the trend toward “omnichannel retailing” that signals a new paradigm in consumer behavior and requires a new approach to retail real estate planning.
Here are two general predictions about the chain store real estate business for 2012:
#1 Betting on Clicks or Bricks
Given the continuing weakness in the economy, capital investment in store development will be more carefully scrutinized by senior management than ever before. Given the growing success of the online and mobile channels, there will be more conversations between The CEO, CFO, CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), and CDO (Chief Development Officer or VP Real Estate in most companies).
New questions will be on everyone’s minds and lips. Instead of “how many stores should we add this year net of closings,” people will be asking “how much can we grow sales without adding stores?” Another way to ask the same question might be “what’s the ROI on store development compared to promotion and discounting through other channels?”
These questions will lead to some innovative planning and business models that will look very different from the traditional approaches that have not changed much in the past few decades.
#2 Performance Improvement
Investments in technology to improve real estate planning and site selection have grown dramatically in the past five to ten years. Most of the larger chains and many smaller ones have a Real Estate Research Director or Senior Analyst who is responsible for delivering strategic plans and sales performance estimates to the decision-makers. They have armed themselves with mapping and demographic programs, databases, and analytical tools based on everything from excel to sophisticated statistical models. Almost everyone agrees that research can improve performance and that the investment in analysts and their tools is worthwhile.
The question remains: how much of the potential value from research activities is being realized? Is there room for improvement?
My prediction for 2012 is that investments in analysts and technology will continue, especially for companies that have been slower to get on the analytics bandwagon. However, the new focus will be improving the “people” side of research. This starts with benchmarking business processes against best practices in the industry and extends to consistent training programs to align the deliverables from research with the decision requirements of everyone in the real estate process including senior management, dealmakers in the field, and people in other departments such as marketing and merchandising.
There’s been a lot of talk about “enterprise GIS” and “localized assortment planning” in the past few years. The reason this is on my list of predictions is that all of the prerequisites to actually implement such performance improvements are now in place.
a) The technology is good and has become affordable, especially with “cloud computing” which allows companies to build a platform gradually with variable costs instead of committing to a huge IT infrastructure investment to get started.
b) The need to integrate real estate planning with other channels at the highest level is crystal clear based on the growth in online and mobile sales and the social media phenomenon
c) The large capital investment required for bricks and mortar stores has become harder to justify in a weak economy that shows no signs of bouncing back quickly as in past cycles.
By this time next year there will be some great case studies of companies that are actually doing these things and reaping the financial benefits (although it might take another year to quantify this in a convincing manner).
In the interest of accountability, I have marked my calendar to follow up on these predictions one year from now. I hope I can find some good cases to talk about then or we may not have a very happy new year in 2013 and beyond!