Like the surprise snow that fell on Denver during ICSC's recent Fall Management & Marketing Conference, technology topics unexpectedly blanketed the proceedings. During the sessions and at the trade expo, there was talk on a wide range of e-subjects, from gift certificate programs to e-commerce strategies to demographics.

Pointers on setting up shopping center websites were offered in a workshop led by Catherine Seda, director of online promotions for La Jolla, Calif.-based SiteLab International. In addition to marketing a site and tracking clicks, leads and sales, Seda stressed the importance of using a site for coupons, contests, maps and directories, and information for potential employees, tourists, investors and tenants. The cost of getting a shopping center website up and running can approach $1 million, Seda said. She cited Park Meadows in Denver and Fashion Outlet in Las Vegas as having especially effective websites.

Trends to watch In a session about Generation Y (people born after 1980), Denver-based author and consultant Claire Raines advised attendees they had better pay heed to this vast segment of the population. Nearly 73 million strong, the "millennials," as they are also dubbed, will be retailers' main source of labor for the next decade. Moreover, this Internet-savvy group spends $200 billion a year.

Further evidence of the Internet's influence came in a session titled "The Mall as Media." Sponsorship programs were explored by a panel of industry experts, who said Internet companies are among the best prospects for sponsors.

Perhaps most provocative in heralding the techno tidal wave was Dr. Peter Sealey, former senior vice president of global marketing for the Coca-Cola Co. Tracing the shift in power over the past 50 years from marketers to retailers and now to consumers, Sealey warned that conventional firms are "getting amazoned." They face the same fate as Barnes & Noble and Borders in competing with Amazon.com, which has become nearly synonymous with online shopping. Mass marketing has given way to one-to-one marketing, with retailers no longer just selling but building lifetime relationships with customers.

Sealey's advice to the shopping center industry: "Focus on high-touch categories. Augment storefronts with an Internet presence. Don't compete on price alone. Take advantage of technology, like the use of electronic shelf pricing or self-service checkout stations. Make shopping an experience."

Retail goes global The Internet buzz at the marketing conference was followed one week later in Miami by predictions of retail globalization at ICSC's Conference of the Americas, which attracted 369 shopping center professionals from Central and South America.

The concept of leased retail space is only a few decades old in Latin America. Compared with the over-stored United States, it offers virgin territory for retail development, for both shopping center developers and retailers. As of now, relatively few shopping centers serve extremely high-density areas.

In Argentina, for example, the Buenos Aires metropolitan area has a population of 12 million people but has only 24 shopping centers, according to literature distributed at the conference. And the entire nation of Brazil, which has a population of 165 million, has a mere 159 shopping centers.

Several speakers noted the numerous retail concepts entering Latin America, such as Cinemark, GameWorks, General Cinema, Macy's and Domino's. In fact, some speculated that the North and South American markets eventually will merge into one, with both having essentially the same retailers. Walter Loeb, retired retail analyst with Morgan Stanley and currently a retail consultant, went so far as to forecast the utter demise of regional retailers.

A fresh idea One retailer story was truly stunning. It was about the phenomenal success of Zara, a women's apparel retailer that began in Spain in 1978 and has mushroomed into an international dynamo with 741 stores in 21 countries.

To implement its unusual concept of "fresh clothes," Zara store managers provide reports every evening on what their customers want. Zara's designers then create new ready-to-wear fashions based on this data. These clothes are then manufactured and distributed to all Zara locations around the globe - twice a week!

Such rapid response to design trends is critical to the Zara shopper, said Ramon Renon Tunez, the company's director of international expansion.

I couldn't decide which was more amazing: that a company could master the logistics of such a feat, or that there actually are women who purchase clothes so frequently.