...whether using consultants or focus groups, some developers are paying more attention to customers and their emotional connection to a store or shopping center.
With so many options available, women shoppers now want to feel as though retail centers have been "customized" to meet their needs, said Tracey Gotsis, the executive vice president for marketing and development at Macerich, a real estate investment trust based in Santa Monica, California
Instead of relying on questionnaires or formal focus groups, Macerich, Gotsis said, often takes boxed lunches to the workplaces of more than a dozen local women who are acting as a "sounding board" for the company's redevelopment of Santa Monica Place, an older enclosed mall that is scheduled to reopen in the fall of 2009.
There, the company is now planning to add more luxury retailers and stores that meet the needs of women in the 35-to-55 age group, after it discovered that the women thought too many nearby retailers were focusing on teenagers and the so-called "junior" market.
The women also wanted more restaurants and different types of restaurants, and Macerich is now talking to a half-dozen restaurateurs as well. It also has plans to add a double-deck carousel to the food court at the center as well as an outdoor amphitheater for children's performances.
"Our network of women is telling us they want more things to do with children," Gotsis said.
In Gilbert, Arizona, the company first put plans for developing SanTan Village before about 90 women from the area in 2002. They told the company they wanted considerably more restaurant space than originally envisioned, and also sidewalks that were far wider than the five feet it usually installed in outdoor centers.
SanTan Village opened last autumn, with sidewalks that are at least 10 feet wide, and in some cases 15, so that women shoppers can navigate them easily with strollers and children in tow.
At Caruso Affiliated, a development company based in Los Angeles, Rick Caruso, the president and chief executive, said that four years ago he heard a young mother complain about the lack of nursing stations in shopping centers. That, he says, prompted him to make sure that the company's upcoming mixed-use development in central Glendale, California, the Americana at Brand, would have a large children's playroom in the main lobby ("usually they're stuck behind the garbage area") and private changing rooms (fully stocked with diapers), two private nursing rooms and a small kitchen for heating baby bottles.
Caruso said that because so many women with children drive large cars, his company has been building parking spaces at least nine inches wider than the eight-and-a-half-foot-wide spaces that tend to be the industry norm.