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ORLANDO-It wasn’t the sort of cheerleading they came to hear, but delegates attending the 2003 Florida Conference of the International Council of Shopping Centers here took notes as Charlotte, NC retail consultant C. Britt Beemer laid out the gloomy scenario.

“The most amazing change among American shoppers is their lack of interest to ‘go shopping’,” Beemer told 3,000 attendees at the Gaylord Palms Convention Center in suburban Kissimmee, FL. “This year, when Americans went on vacation, only about 20% of their time was spent shopping, down from 26% just two years ago.”

The chairman of America’s Research Group, which also has a local office, said the 6% decline “should get retailers scratching their heads on how to solve this dangerous trend. In a short five years, women’s interest in shopping as a ‘pick-me-up’ has declined from 40% to 21%.”

“Today, barely one in five adult females say, they ‘go shopping’ when they are feeling blue and using shopping as a tonic to get them back on their feet,” Beemer said.

The consultant told delegates that over the last 10 years, “Americans find themselves with less time to do everything, and shopping has taken the ‘biggest hit.’”

Beemer advised owners, developers, managers and builders to “maintain an up-to-date appearance” on their properties and “create unique elements that will draw shoppers.”

For example, he said cross-promotions among tenants and promotions such as holiday events, contests and customer rewards are “critical to success as well.” Undertaking consumer research, such as finding out how many shoppers come to the center monthly within a typical driving radius, could be a starting point.

“Today, everyone must be involved in marketing because consumers may never return to their 1980s level of big spending,” Beemer said. “Everyone needs to remember that the greatest retail success stories always had leaders with a vision of what to do and how to do it.”

He added, “Most retail companies fail today because they lack any uniqueness in the marketplace–they have been infected with the ‘cancer of sameness.’” Beemer warned, “If something doesn’t change, there will be a lot more empty stores at the end of 2003 than at the end of 2002.”

The consultant told delegates, “It is unfortunate that most retailers are focused more on Wall Street rather than Main Street. Short-term profitability rules the day, so don’t look for much to change until investors demand a change in this thinking.”

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