The retail industry is in a revolution. Store closures hit a record high of 7,600 and surprising bankruptcies ravaged the retail battlefield in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Once iconic brands died embarrassing deaths at the hands of hungry upstarts – upstarts that understood it’s no longer about unwavering brand legacy, pressure sales tactics and one-size-fits-all service.

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The losers in the revolution shared a common characteristic – they sold commodifiable items, offered an uninspiring in-store experience and delivered unremarkable client service. Macy’s, Sears, Payless and Forever 21 are examples. They stuck with traditional battle tactics – copy the competition, dismiss the upstarts and fight on margin. This thinking made them blend into the sea of unrecognizable brands, in turn exposing them to a hungry shark – e-commerce. The very same shark will also kill the mall unless landlords transform their role from rent collectors to remarkable experience creators.

Cadillac Fairview converted traditional “retail space” to a dedicated studio for content creators.
Cadillac Fairview converted traditional “retail space” to a dedicated studio for content creators.

Jose Ribau, Cadillac Fairview’s EVP of digital and innovation is taking the right steps to outswim the shark. He recognizes that the new consumer wants personalized recommendations, rewards and the best deals. In fact, according to Accenture, 64 per cent of us are “willing to share personal data in exchange for benefits like loyalty points and automatic credits for coupons”.

E-commerce has implicitly transformed consumer expectations of landlords. The new customer expects convenience, speed, transparency and personalisation from any service provider – whether it’s ordering a ride, walking into a mall or buying a car. To be clear, this shift in customer expectations is important for landlords to recognize; the new consumer will not be satisfied by a mall environment that is simply a safe environment and welcoming.

The fact that Cadillac Fairview is taking real action to deliver the benefits offered by the digital realm and merging these benefits with the in-store realm is a game changer. This is because the frontline warriors in the retail revolution have typically been tenants.

Take, for example, tenants such as Nike and Sephora. They both repositioned their stores from places you go to buy clothes to places you go to for a sense of community and to get personalized products that make you feel heard (examples include designing your own running shoe with Nike or getting a makeup lesson at Sephora along with suggestions that work for your skin tone and lifestyle). Ribau is taking such tenant efforts one step further by bringing technology and community into the corridors of Cadillac Fairview shopping centres.

A prime example of Cadillac Fairview transforming the mall into a place of gathering, community and experience is Streaming at CF. Cadillac Fairview converted traditional “retail space” to a dedicated studio for content creators from various backgrounds – music icons, sports celebrities and YouTubers have all shared their stories on Streaming at CF. This move is genius. In our content and social media obsessed world, Streaming at CF delivers a win for everyone involved. Content creators save on studio costs, consumers are excited to go to the mall and share copious amounts of pictures on social media and Cadillac Fairview gets exceptional exposure at a relatively low cost.

Ribau recognizes, however, that Streaming at CF won’t be enough. He also knows that “consumers want a more seamless shopping experience”. To do this, Ribau first identified the pain points that prevent people from wanting to enter into a mall – the labyrinth of stores, forgetting an important purchase (or where you parked), not knowing what to buy for that special someone or how to incorporate that lime green sweater into your wardrobe. All these problems are being solved by Ribau’s newest creation: CF Browse.

CF Browse is an app that offers more than just email notifications about deals. It brings the benefits of e-commerce to how you shop in real life. For example, using the app, the mission shopper won’t waste her waste time trying to find a store because the app has a map and intuitive search function. The hunter shopper will be inspired by notifications from the app that will help her find complementary products in other stores. The bargain shopper will no longer miss a deal because she can select which products and brands she wants to be notified about if they go on sale.

I suspect CF Browse will continue to transform along with the consumer. For example, this app may evolve to remind you to hydrate and ping you when the lineup at your favourite cafe is the shortest.

Ribau further predicts that the shopping experience may evolve to a point where you don’t pull out a credit card as you simply tap your phone and you don’t carry around a shopping bag as your goods are delivered to your car, home or office.  You may not even need to bring your entourage of “truth telling” friends to help you decide if you should buy that jacket. Instead, you’ll simply take a picture with CF Browse and get your friends to vote.

While this evolution of hyper personalization, community and convenience is exciting, I hope that Cadillac Fairview will continue to follow another tech trend – creating features in the app that encourage good behaviour such as eating better, putting down the phone and saving a bit more for retirement. Nonetheless, it’s clear that Cadillac Fairview has outswam the shark and is employing all the right weapons to end up on the right side of the revolution.


  1. This podcast addresses my earlier comment, among other important things to think about for those Mall investment owners … and their retail struggles in the new world order tied to online shopping. (Read “specialize” into the mix maybe?)

    Wonder how a “specializing Mall” might look if it was all a collection of small mom and pop grocery stores? (Sort of like a collection of Rabba shops). Butcher shops, green grocers. No giant tall shelves. The perimeter shops could have “back door pick up access” where a real live (students) employee could load your groceries into your car? (Not going back in time).

    There could be an “appliance” Mall with a collection of competing brands not unlike the collections of auto-Mall street concepts.

    Other Malls might only have clothing shops, even specialty uniform shops for schools or medical staff clothing – imagine, all in just one Mall.

    There could even be a collection of doctors and dentists, X-ray labs and blood work locations all in a specialized Mall, instead of being scattered, unconnected all over a community.

    And loads more mid-location access egress doors. Someone forgot to tell the architects? Every square foot of space has value but not if customers avoid the Mall. Vacant stores serve no purpose when they have “closed” on the papered windows.

    Kind of like niche marketing in real estate? (Just another form of “farming?” specialization)

    You could buy an ironing board in an anchor store and then you had to drag it through the Mall to the anchor store at the other end where you bought bulky bed linens. And no one to help you get these things to your car. What’s wrong with that Mall-picture?

    And of course the specialty Mall would have their own customer pick up and delivery “buses” with special bus routes to get those buyers to and from, cruising nearby subdivisions.

    I read the Acres of Diamonds story referenced, back maybe in the late 1970s. That’s more than 40 years ago.

    Speaking of old reading and Malls… Do you know why all malls are required to have those giant wall to wall glass, easily removable, entrance doors? Have you thought about the automobile local dealer special promotion car displays so easily positioned “in the Mall,” and how they got those cars inside? And how quickly a Mall could be turned into an emergency hospital in time of disaster? Ambulances could drive right inside. Those things were all taken into consideration when Malls were “invented.”

    And why egress access highway cloverleaf ramps are spaced strategic distances one from the other, repeatedly throughout the whole world highway systems (designed to accommodate take off and landing of planes?) And why the 400 series of highways are more or less the same format all over the world? (Hint: think of them as aircraft carrier ships.)

    There is also a priceless, true reference in this particular podcast to sales reps “showing” houses:

    Worth listening to perhaps while waiting for a client to arrive.


  2. What a great article.

    I am one who needs tactile shopping. Can’t even begin to imagine how people buy good Italian leather sole shoes online. And I’m not talking 3k shoes! There are many shoe “last’s” and there’s one for every kind of foot shape. There’s an old saying “look after your feet and they will support your body for a lifetime.”

    Being a super busy and time-task oriented person, I rarely went to a Mall and adapted well to the big box stores where one parked outside the specific shop. Made purchase and exit stage left, back to car with purchase in tow.

    But I refuse to shop at the giant warehouse environment locations where one has to follow the floor graphic footprints of a mapping from one department to another, with high shelves where products are not within easy reach and of course there’s no staff within easy reach either. Who has time for such shopping escapades. I can’t imagine shopping for groceries at WalMart although the food surely would be fine.

    If I really needed to go to a Mall anchor-store, being the only place to find certain products, one anchor-store being strategically located on either end of the Mall, (haven’t been to a Mall in 20 years) I would literally park outside an Eaton’s store for example (in the burbs) at one end of the mall, then exit and drive to the opposite end of the Mall to the Bay where it became such poor consumer service that one nearly had to consider yelling “fire” to find someone to take cash to pay at unmanned cashier stations.

    Many years ago an author mentioned this fiasco in a well-read book on marketing to a consumer. I always remembered that comment because it was/is so true. Lack of staffing and even more lack of product knowledge for brand name products defined a shopping experience leading to retail downfall but not better served by the online experience. We surely live in a whole new world.

    Surely this contributes to helping boutique retail shops survive. And another thing retail seems not to consider, even in malls – that the malls are often frequented by those over 65, sometimes just as indoor entertainment out of the cold or heat. But not considered is that since that age group and older represents a sizeable portion of the population and many have money to spend.

    Not to get too personal but buying pantyhose and undergarments has almost become impossible. Surely some, but not all wear g-string underwear or bikini style but likewise the ugly unfeminine Jockey label seems to be everywhere. And at many retailers the only thing available. Ugly as it is with wide nasty thick waistbands. Even the specialty shops only cater to the younger crowd. Someone is really missing a major marketing Mall opportunity.

    Eatons filled a big hole in the marketplace until they dropped many lines and wondered why their stores were subsequently often empty. Again forcing buyers to frequent small street shops.

    Stores (malls) often have so many choices of replicated T-shirt’s and everyday unremarkable items and then they wonder why retail suffers.

    I don’t think I’m alone maybe in my assessment.

    Carolyne L


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