That will be the future of retail? This subject was discussed at one of the sessions I attended at the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) 1999 Southeast Conference, which met here in Atlanta last month. The mid-morning session, which was packed full of information was titled "Retail Trends of the Next Millennium: How Changing Demographics and Lifestyles Will Affect the Shopping Center Landscape." (Excuse me, could we have a little longer title?)

The panel consisted of: Joel T. Murphy, who acted as moderator, is president of Atlanta-based Cousins MarketCenters, Inc.; Richard J. Golden, senior director of real estate for the southern zone at The Gap Inc., San Francisco, Calif.; Paul Nolan, group marketing director at Dublin, Ireland-based McNally Design Group; and Richard J. Tunstall, principal of Peachtree City, Ga.-based Market Analysis & Research Inc.

Retailers and developers know that consumers and demographics drive retail and with retail constantly changing, they must adapt to these changes.

Consumers, according to Tunstall, want more ethnic diversity with the center's tenant and merchandise mix designed to meet that need. He believes that the growing Hispanic population, along with the changing tastes of 81 million baby boomers, would like to have more variety.

Golden believes the right products and good customer service is what will bring people into stores in the next millennium. He sees a change in venues for his stores with strip and urban centers, and projects like Cousins' The Avenue at East Cobb as more desirable to consumers.

Nolan believes that U.S. developers need to look outside their borders at what European developers are doing. He sites China, pre-communist Russia and Europe as areas to look at for both design and cuisine. Also, he says, society is transient and he agrees that urban and mainstreet centers are the growth areas for 2000.

Nolan believes e-commerce is being overhyped, but agrees that it is a growing trend. He also contends that e-commerce will never replace the physical experience of shopping. Nolan cites the interest in the Sears catalog as an example of what may happen with the Internet. Initial sales were huge but the catalog eventually found its place in the retail world and did not replace bricks and mortar.

All participants agreed, the 81 million aging baby boomers will definitely make their mark on the future of retailing. How this will happen is yet to be seen, but I can assure you - as one of those 81 million baby boomers myself - we will all make our needs known.