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TV, the mall & my underwear

it's one of those lazy summer Sunday mornings. My dog, Samantha, stares up at me with one of those "can't we take a walk around the whole planet today?" looks. My dusty rollerblades call my name from the closet. And when I look at my pale white legs in the mirror, it becomes apparent that a day in the sun isn't such a bad idea.

And then it hits me - I've got a wedding next Saturday and a week from hell in between. I have no gift - and as the "creative guy" at business meetings, I don't own a suit. What to do?

Five years ago, it wouldn't have been a question. I'd have convinced Samantha that the earth terminated at our block and that the asphalt street was a black hole. Then I would have headed to the mall, convincing myself that fluorescent lights have tanning capabilities!

But why should I do that today? The divine powers of the universe have bestowed upon me...the Internet! Not being one to challenge divinity, I make the five-yard commute to my home office where, still in my underwear, I embark on a virtual shopping spree. Within minutes, I've downloaded my friend's gift registry, then purchased and shipped her gift - in wedding wrap. I also found a sweet suit - at a sweet price - which I'll have by morning.

I even order the "Harold and Maude" DVD I've wanted since last fall. I log off, throw on a pair of shorts, strap on my skates and Sam and I are beach bound.

So, why am I plugging the conveniences of Internet shopping in a shopping center magazine? Simple. Because of 3-D, Cinerama, Sensurround and Smell-o-vision.

You see, with the advent of television in the 1950s, the movie industry worried that people would get all their entertainment from a little box in their living rooms. So they invented special experiences that could only be had at the cinema - 3-D movies, bigger screens, better sound, even synchronized smells!

A similar revolution is afoot with the advent of the Internet. This time, the retail industry worries that people will do all their shopping on a little box in their home office. And they're right! As more retail companies develop an online presence and more people purchase increasingly affordable computers, the convenience of online shopping cannot be beat. So what is a retail center to do?

First, it must reposition itself as a retail and entertainment destination. This has been a trend for years, but now it's imperative. The "experience economy" is upon us and today's society expects to be entertained in even the most mundane of tasks. A shopping experience must offer more than just corridors of storefronts: it has to be fun.

The tenant mix might include a multiplex with a large format theater; themed restaurants; nightclubs; and even a modern game arcade. Some retail centers are taking the extra step by incorporating free entertainment into their facilities. Opry Mills in Nashville boasts a dedicated entertainment court where 36-giant digital video screens, computerized lighting, concert-style sound and special effects celebrate the history of country music and Tennessee sports. Live bands perform throughout the day.

The second step a retail center might consider to keep potential customers from letting their mice do the shopping is to use technology to bring online conveniences to the brick-and-mortar world. Interactive kiosks or handheld devices, for example, could add innovative conveniences to the traditional shopping experience.

The truth is that human nature covets the communal experience, and teenagers will always need a place to flirt, adults will always want to try a new outfit on, and we'll always crave the thrill of unearthing that treasure on the sale rack!

Ultimately, the shopping center and the Internet will coexist - but in the meantime, making your center a more entertaining and convenient experience will give people like me a reason to stop by on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Of course, letting them shop in their underwear is a whole different challenge. . .

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