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It’s Time for Retailers to Stop Blaming Amazon, Mall Owner Says

Blaming Amazon.com Inc.’s dominance has become the go-to excuse for any retailer struggling to meet expectations — and that’s a lot. It’s time to move on, says a top executive at one of the world’s largest shopping mall landlords.

“Before Amazon, it was the weather or something else,” said Jaap Tonckens, chief financial offer of France’s Unibail-Rodamco SE, in an interview with Bloomberg TV Thursday. “The key element for retail landlords as well as retailers is that you need to invest and you need to anticipate. And the key element in that is looking ahead and competing for the customer’s wallet; complaining about something doesn’t make it change.”

Tonckens said Unibail is on track to complete its $22 billion acquisition of Australian retail property giant Westfield Corp, which faces a shareholder vote on May 17. The deal, one of the largest mall takeovers in history, will increase Unibail’s market share in both the U.K. and the U.S., where Westfield owns and operates 35 shopping centers.

“The death of the U.S. mall is over-hyped,” said Tonckens. “It is a story that sells well because bad news sells better than good news.”

After it completes the Westfield deal, Unibail expects to generate 22 percent of its revenue from the U.S., a level that Tonckens said the company is happy with.

Asked about the possibility of making a bid for Macerich Co., the U.S. mall group under pressure from activist investor Starboard Value to sell itself, Tonckens said: “I don’t think we are looking to expand. The focus that we have is Westfield, integrating Westfield, and delivering for our shareholders”

He did concede that the U.S. retail industry is facing structural challenges that are far from played out.

“There needs to be more investment in keeping these malls relevant.,” Tonckens said. “There is too much retail. There is not enough profitable retail or profitable real estate.”