The new development front is still very muted in the U.S. Most of the interesting stuff is happening not on the development side but in retail itself, with several distinct trends re-emphasising themselves:
1. The drug stores and dollar stores are extending their reach into the supermarkets' traditional businesses. Duane Reade's flagship on Union Square in New York is a poster child for this, with its pharmacy, food, stationery and upscale Look Boutique cosmetics section. Most dollar stores now have entire food aisles plus a produce section and fridge with dairy and frozen foods, while drug stores have food aisles, fridges and a booze aisle.
2. Bloomingdales is stretching its lead as the number 1 department store chain. Its studiedly scruffy full-line store at Santa Monica is superb and its new outlet unit at Potomac Mills in Virginia beats out most traditional department stores. Despite the hoopla from the Macy's PR machine about localization and training up its sales associates, it's hard to see how things have changed much on the ground. Shoppability of the mega-department store format remains as much a problem as it always was.
3. The customer-centricity model in consumer electronics championed by Best Buy has now been tortured by its own chief exponent. Service is almost non-existent there now, at least in the two stores I visited, one in Union Square and another in a suburban Washington, D.C mall. In the latter I saw five guys standing around talking to each other instead of helping customers. I fussed over a notebook computer right under their noses and they didn't give me the time of day. It was eerily like being in a JB Hi-Fi store. If it doesn't lift its game, Best Buy is destined to go the way of Circuit City.
4. The open-air mall model is alive and well with the redeveloped three-level Santa Monica Place. It syncs really nicely with Third Street Promenade too, demonstrating how a mall and a street can work together provided the tenant mixes are complementary and the connectivity between the two is seamless.
5. High-end vending machines are now ubiquitous in shopping centres and airports, selling things as diverse as consumer electronics, cosmetics and acne treatments. These provide a wonderful opportunity for retailers to capture repeat sales without the cost commitment of a full store. Vending machines are mobile too, so if they don't work in one place you can always wheel them to another.
6. Best new food concept: Eataly at 200 Fifth Avenue in NYC. If you like Italian food and wine, or would just like to wander around in a little piece of Italy for a few minutes, this is your place.
7. Worst decline in a retail neighbourhood: Georgetown in Washington, D.C. "For lease" signs prominent along M Street. Wisconsin Avenue has become shabby too. A sign of the times: the French bistros that were landmarks on Wisconsin -- au pied de cochon and au fruit de la mer -- are now gone. The former is now occupied by Five Guys Burgers 'N Fries and the latter is boarded up.
8. Most struggling mall: Georgetown Park in Washington, D.C. This has been in decline for a long time but now it looks like it's on its last legs.
9. Biggest fad: Daily deal and flash sale sites. Watch for Amazon's Myhabit.com that will up the ante for visual merchandising in a web-based apparel store.
10. Worst business model: Hollywood Video and Blockbuster. $1 movies, no due dates -- the race to the bottom is on in earnest. Meanwhile, the new-look Barnes & Noble book superstores are providing a glimpse into how book retailers are circling the wagons around their own battered models. A significant amount of space is now being given over to stations where shoppers can test the Nook e-reader.