'Experimenting' Will Help Shopping Malls Like Eastland

Apr 6, 2017

IRMA Director Rob Karr told an audience in Normal that retailers are among the most innovative people in business and they will continue to adapt to changing technology
Credit Charlie Schlenker / WGLT

The face of retail is changing drastically, but there is still a place for brick and mortar stores. That's according to Rob Karr, the head of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

Karr spoke in Normal before the Economic Development Council saying there are parallels with the past in the way technology is changing retail.

"Pop up stores and stores on wheels are not much different from the covered wagons and door to door sales. Loyalty cards and apps are the same idea. It's just a different delivery method. It's a back to the future approach," said Karr.

Karr painted a picture of  virtual in home stores with ads popping up as in the movie "Minority Report." He said there remains no substitute, though, for touching a product, at least the first time you buy it.

Karr laid out a developing future in which on line commerce and bricks and mortar establishments will move toward each other, each adopting the most effective tools of the other. Karr also said the mall is not dead in America, but it is in the middle of reinvention.

"They are experimenting now with bowling alleys and movie theaters. But, they are also going to get into non-traditional mall stores. Some are adding grocery stores. Five years ago that would have been unthinkable. Malls are now looking at becoming medical offices, schools, government offices, residences," said Karr.

Several department stores, including Macy's and J.C. Penney have announced closures in Bloomington-Normal recently.

Karr says on line purchases will continue to erode some sectors of retail. But, last year the Commerce Department reported on line retail amounted to only 8.3 percent of the entire sector.

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