Executive Briefings

Shopping Mall Carts, Kiosks Have Become Islands of Big-Time Retail Sales

Typically bound by short-term leases, displaying products made by others, and run by first-time entrepreneurs with limited capital, shopping mall carts and kiosks have long been considered an unsophisticated small-business underclass. More recently, however, these small-footprint retailers have come to be seen as possessing surprising potential.

Much has changed since 4-foot-by-8-foot carts with wagon wheels "” known as retail merchandising units, or R.M.U.'s "” had their debut some four decades ago. Realizing the value of their mini-merchants, malls installed electrical outlets and better lighting in the middle of their shopping concourses. More recently, Wi-Fi-enhanced laptops and tablets have enabled merchants to maximize their tiny selling spaces. Thanks to Square and other credit card swiping apps, many operators display more merchandise where a countertop register once sat. Others use an iPad to showcase merchandise they do not have room to stock, and the close sales remotely, with real-time instructions to the warehouse to ship the goods to the buyer's home.

But several advantages of specialty retailing remain constant and help explain the $8bn in annual mall sales attributed to this often-overlooked venue.

"We call it 360-degree retail," said Ted Kaminski, senior vice president of specialty leasing for The Westfield Group, owner of 47 malls in America and 104 around the world. "It's your product, your presentation, your service exposed on all sides."

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Much has changed since 4-foot-by-8-foot carts with wagon wheels "” known as retail merchandising units, or R.M.U.'s "” had their debut some four decades ago. Realizing the value of their mini-merchants, malls installed electrical outlets and better lighting in the middle of their shopping concourses. More recently, Wi-Fi-enhanced laptops and tablets have enabled merchants to maximize their tiny selling spaces. Thanks to Square and other credit card swiping apps, many operators display more merchandise where a countertop register once sat. Others use an iPad to showcase merchandise they do not have room to stock, and the close sales remotely, with real-time instructions to the warehouse to ship the goods to the buyer's home.

But several advantages of specialty retailing remain constant and help explain the $8bn in annual mall sales attributed to this often-overlooked venue.

"We call it 360-degree retail," said Ted Kaminski, senior vice president of specialty leasing for The Westfield Group, owner of 47 malls in America and 104 around the world. "It's your product, your presentation, your service exposed on all sides."

Read Full Article