CEO of Westfield Corp., one of the world's largest mall operators, said that shopping centers have to act more like technology companies in order to be relevant to the fast-changing consumer.
"Clearly, there's a shake-up going on," said Steven M. Lowy, co-CEO of Westfield, which operates 34 shopping centers worldwide in key cities like London and New York. "Amazon is having a massive impact...We understand the need to change and adapt."
But Lowy noted the largest online leader can't do "all things," such as create "beautiful spaces" for shopping. He was addressing a few thousand retailers, suppliers, venture capitalists and analysts on Tuesday, the second day of Shoptalk, a three-day technology and retail conference.
The comments follow last week's reports from major department stores such as J.C. Penney, Macy's, Kohl's and Nordstrom which announced weak first-quarter sales. That has increased worries about the future of these mall icons as shoppers increasingly shift online and focus on buying less stuff and more services.
Lowy said that Westfield, which has a total portfolio value of $29 billion, has been quickly changing, spending as much time on technology as its real estate properties, and is testing new initiatives. Two years ago, the company opened an innovation lab in San Francisco called Westfield Labs.
Among some of the new initiatives the mall operator has embraced: creating a "searchable" mall where shoppers can click onto the Westfield website to buy 4 million products from 250 retailers. Right now, customers in London use the searchable mall and soon, those in New York will, too.
Westfield is also getting out of malls in smaller cities and concentrating on big world capitals like Milan and London. In its new soon-to-be opened World Trade Center mall, Westfield has worked with Ford Motor Co. to build a so-called Ford Hub, which serves as an innovation showroom, though shoppers will not be able to buy cars. Westfield is rebuilding its Century City mall in Los Angeles to "look like no other mall," Lowy said.
In London, it's testing services like enabling customers to order a salad at a local eatery at the mall on an app while walking out of a store. Customers at the mall can also take advantage of technology that will help guide shoppers through the mall.
Lowy told the audience that he is also seeing an increasing cultural change among retailers to start sharing data once deemed as confidential about their customers with shopping centers. That will help malls fine tune marketing strategies to get shoppers into the mall more often and will lead to increased sales.
"We have to work together," he said.