Several businesses launching downtown are trying to provide a different kind of retail experience to compete with the online retailers poaching brick-and-mortar sales.

Experiential retail offers customers an interactive shopping or entertainment experience that they can only get by visiting a physical store. An increasing number of retailers are opening in-store restaurants and bars, hosting free and ticketed events or giving customers the chance to interact with new technology. At the forefront of experiential retail are pop-up museums, which charge customers to walk through interactive art installations and sell accompanying products.

Pop-up museums have swept the country since the Museum of Ice Cream first opened in New York in 2016 and Santa Monica embraced the trend last spring with the opening of Candytopia, a ticketed pop-up that offered visitors the chance to take selfies next to life-size candy canes and lollipops. Candytopia packed its bags in July, but supermodel Tyra Banks announced earlier this week that she will be opening a permanent attraction called Modelland in late 2019.

“Santa Monica Place is the perfect setting for the groundbreaking Modelland concept and we are so pleased to welcome this exceptional, multi-layered entertainment, retail and dining attraction to our world-class destination,” said Michael Guerin, senior vice president of leasing at Macerich, which owns Santa Monica Place. “Our top properties including Santa Monica Place are terrific platforms for retailers and brands of all kinds to connect with their audiences, who visit us for the best in experience-forward retail and everything else.”

Modelland will join The Void, where Disney fans can buy tickets to go on a virtual reality headset adventures, the Cayton Children’s Museum, which charges admission and contains a gift shop, and The Gourmandise School of Sweets & Savories to form a slate of businesses in downtown Santa Monica that go beyond traditional retail. (The Void and Gourmandise are already open and Cayton will open in May.)

Like Candytopia, Modelland will sell tickets to a themed experience aimed at social media users and contain retail and dining components.

“Modelland is going to be a place where the modeling world meets fantasy, meets entertainment, meets technology, meets retail, meets dining, meets … your fiercest best self you could ever imagine,” Banks told Variety.

However, Banks said the attraction will be permanent and the first location of a global chain.

“It draws on the creativity that comes from the pop-up world, and fact that it is permanent means they can invest a lot more into the actual structure,” said Andrea Korb, Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.’s economic development manager. “They’re proposing really creative things with the facade that will draw people in. With a pop-up, you wouldn’t put that much capital into something temporary.”

Permanent experiential retail is something DTSM, downtown’s business improvement district, is trying to encourage, Korb said.

Experiential retail will help shopping districts adapt to what Laurel Rosen, president and CEO of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, calls “the dire future of retail.” Taxable sales fell on the Third Street Promenade by 2.9 percent and at Santa Monica Place by 4.5 percent in 2017 as more consumers patronized online retailers.

“For retailers like Santa Monica Place, it’s absolutely crucial they understand current trends and the needs of consumers,” Rosen said. “They have to get creative to provide the type of shopping experience people want.”

Rosen said retailers should focus on creating a destination experience for shoppers that invites them to linger and build a relationship with their brand. A successful retail experience benefits surrounding businesses as well, she said.

“If they stay there a while, they will get hungry enough to go to a restaurant, or if the experience is exciting enough, they will want to keep shopping,” she said. “It creates a more vibrant shopping district and, ultimately, more money spent.”

Forward-thinking retail will be a cornerstone of DTSM’s plan to energize downtown Santa Monica, Korb said, in addition to more entertainment and nightlife.

“The retail world is changing, and in the future, there will be less and less standard retail,” Korb said.

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