Multichannel at the Epicenter

Catalog veteran Tony Lee is back in the game pushing a retail concept to catalogers. Lee has teamed up with real estate developer Sheldon Gordon–best known for developing the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace–to develop Epicenter, a retail concept that Lee says combines the benefits of online, catalog, and in-store shopping under one roof.

Lee hopes to open the 180,000-sq.-ft. facility, which is attached to the Polaris Fashion Palace in Columbus, OH, sometime in 2006. The cost of retail has always been a barrier to entry for catalogers, Lee says. But the merchants using Epicenter need not worry about onerous leases and the burden of hiring a staff and carrying inventory: Epicenter will take all of those risks, he says.

Epicenter, Lee continues, solves challenges faced by merchants who have only catalogs or Websites: Customers get to see and feel the merchandise. In fact, company research says that 81% of people who browse online but purchase in-store say that their primary reason for buying in the store is their desire to see the product. And due to continuing consolidation among retailers, Lee figures more excess space will become available, thus fueling more Epicenter openings.

Lee is especially excited about what he calls the Buypod, an electronic personal shopping device that allows for one-button purchasing. Customers entering the mall can input their credit-card information on the Buypod and then simply scan the items they want to purchase. Store merchants can then allow customers to have an item shipped to their homes rather than bring it home themselves.

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