Rethinking America’s Shopping Traditions

Time Equities' Ami Ziff and Christa Dabkowski of Swire Properties on preparing for a holiday retail season like no other.
Ami Ziff, Director of National Retail, Time Equities
Ami Ziff, Director of National Retail, Time Equities Inc. Image courtesy of Time Equities Inc.

This year’s holiday shopping season will be like no other in the modern era. The pandemic has forced some retailers into bankruptcy, plunged millions into unemployment and made many shoppers reluctant to go to stores for fear of getting infected. Retailers must now deal with the difficulty of paying bills amid reduced traffic, while integrating online strategies and keeping their employees and customers safe.

In an interview with Commercial Property Executive, Ami Ziff, director of National Retail for Time Equities Inc., a company that oversees 122 shopping centers and retail locations across 25 states, along with Christa Dabkowski, vice president of marketing at Swire Properties—the developer of Miami’s futuristic-looking Brickell City Centre—discuss the best ways that retail property owners can choose to prepare for Black Friday and the upcoming holiday shopping season.


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What is the best way for retail property owners to get ready for this year’s holiday shopping season? 

Ziff: The best way—where applicable—is to make sure you’re supporting your retailers and meeting your customers where they want to be met, whether using the “buy online pick up in store” model or activating user-friendly parking lots with signage to direct you to where you pick up merchandise. You need to support the retailer in whatever way possible to make sure they are able to interact with their customer.

Other ways would be to expand and support outdoor dining—i.e., applying for permits to allow them to have/expand outdoor seating. Be flexible and be accommodating. Social distancing and personal protection equipment still stand—this will allow for the preparation for holiday traditions to continue in a safe way.

How will America’s most treasured shopping traditions such as Black Friday or Santa look like in 2020? 

Ziff: It’s still going to happen. People are expecting it and retailers are ready to deliver. Retailers will most likely expand their Black Friday sales, ultimately benefiting them, as they will have more touch points with customers to drive business. We’re seeing more and more retailers close on Thanksgiving Day in an effort to provide a better work-life balance—a pre-pandemic trend that we believe will continue. 

Expanding Black Friday sales is great for encouraging more people to shop over a longer period of time, ultimately spreading out crowds. With more traditional holiday shopping, social distancing and personal protection equipment will still play a part—whether or not Santa is sitting behind plexiglass. At one of our shopping centers, the carolers will still perform this year, but they’ll be wearing face masks. 

Christa Dabkowski, Vice President of Marketing, Swire Properties. Image courtesy of Swire Properties

Dabkowski: Miami’s Brickell City Centre has cemented its standing as downtown’s community destination since opening four years ago. While much has changed in 2020, we remain Miami’s central gathering point and we are committed to bringing health- and safety-conscious holiday programs to Brickell City Centre. Leading our family programming is Santa’s Post Office, which will welcome families for a socially distant and complimentary photo experience with Santa Claus each weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Additionally, we are excited to introduce the Centre’s new pop-in concept this holiday season. Pop-ins invite emerging enterprises and brands to showcase their products to a new customer base while maturing their R&D and providing consumers with curated exposure to new brands. The concept allows Brickell City Centre the opportunity to position the retail center as a space where both businesses and consumers alike are invited to “pop in” to discover new experiences. Of course, we’ll continue to encourage social distancing and the use of face masks throughout the centre. 

How are you planning to maintain sales this year, considering consumers’ shift to online shopping and their need to avoid crowded stores?

Dabkowski: Our retailers will be making efforts to welcome our shoppers over a longer period of time to maintain social distancing and discourage any kind of crowded doorbuster-type holiday promotions. Brickell City Centre has never traditionally opened up for “midnight shopping” or doorbusters, and this year we will be putting up our holiday décor earlier than past years and running deals and promotions for longer periods of time to encourage shoppers to spread out their visits to Brickell City Centre. Our aim is to create a festive atmosphere that encourages consumers to shop earlier for a safe and stress-free experience.

What strategies will you implement to maintain brand identity or the kind of fun experience that people have traditionally enjoyed in past holiday seasons?

Ziff: Trying to maintain and preserve traditional events, but with safety. For example, traditional Santa activities will go on, but with masks and social distancing. 

Are Black Fridays and other limited-time incentives going to become a thing of the past?

Ziff: No, I think there are going to be incremental Black Friday-type sales throughout the season. 

The retail industry was among the hardest hit since the onset of the pandemic. What can you tell us about how you approached delicate situations with your tenants?  

Ziff: We try to approach each conversation in a collaborative and transparent manner. We like to meet in the middle and be forthcoming about what’s going on. That’s been Time Equities Inc.’s strategy since the onset of the pandemic.

Do you foresee large numbers of stores going out of business if the holiday season sales are disappointing?

Ziff: Being in retail, it’s known that the first quarter of every year you see the most bankruptcies. I would anticipate seeing it in the first quarter of 2021, as we see every year. It’s important to note that I don’t anticipate the stores who do go out of business will be a major surprise to anyone. 

Dabkowski: During this holiday season, the winners will be retailers that offer that one-on-one customer service by building relationships with their loyal customers, communicating new merchandise and offering first looks—that kind of white-glove service remains more important now than ever. At Brickell City Centre, our retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Coach have done an incredible job with this approach. Other winners will be those retailers who embrace merging their brick-and-mortar efforts with digital efforts into one omnichannel approach for a 360-degree experience. Any brand not adapting to this method may face a longer recovery this holiday season. 

How can property owners work with retailers to devise strategies to create foot traffic?

Ziff: Ideally, it would be a few different things. First, to be forthcoming about tenant sales. If sales aren’t performing, we can collaborate on how to bump those numbers up. We want all of our retailers to succeed and are constantly pinging them about how we can promote them and drive foot traffic. Another thing would be through special events and making a seamless experience for customers, whether they would like to come inside the store or have their items brought out. The key is being creative and collaborative. In every instance, you need to collaborate.