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Research, data, and retail………AI!

Episode #: 284
Research, data, and retail.........AI!

Guest: James Cook
Topics: Consumer demand, capital markets, absorption, artificial intelligence, celebrity restaurants

This week’s lightspeed episode of Retail Retold came live from Vegas! Chris sits down with James Cook, America’s director of retail research for JLL. Join Chris and James as they give their takes on the research, data, and ai of retail real estate.

What You’ll Learn:

  1. What is the most important positive to take away from ICSC 2024?
  2. What are some headwinds that the retail industry is facing?
  3. What is current role of AI in commercial real estate?
  4. What has been the trend with celebrity restaurants since 2020?

About Retail Retold:

The Retail Retold Podcast highlights community retailer stories from across the country and gives a behind-the-scenes perspective from business leaders in both retail and real estate industries. The show’s episodes contain valuable insights that help solve the needs of entrepreneurs and real estate pros. Join host Chris Ressa and new guests weekly for amazing insights and thought-provoking stories.


This is Retail Retold, the story of how that store ended up in your neighborhood. I’m your host, Chris Ressa. And I invite you to join my conversation with some of the retail industry’s biggest influencers. This podcast is brought to you by DLC Management.

James Cook  00:00

Hey, I’m James Cook. I’m the head of retail research at JLL for North America, and I have a team that tracks all the trends in retail and retail real estate. And I’m going to be what am I going to be interviewed by my friend here? Chris Ressa?

Chris Ressa  00:15

Yeah, I can’t wait. So first question, James.

James Cook  00:19


Chris Ressa  00:21

People go home from the show, what is the the one positive thing you want them to leave with? Like, under learning from being here?

James Cook  00:31

I mean, for me, the underlying continued demand from the consumer. The demand from many retailers who are still expanding, the overall health of occupiers. Now, capital markets is a little bit different because of interest rate issues. But I just still feel good about the consumer and about, you know, most retail tenants. So I think it’s a good story, especially in the open-air space.

Chris Ressa  00:59


James Cook  00:59

Do I know anybody?

Chris Ressa  01:02

We talk about that space a lot. Okay, what’s the one thing you want them to know? Like? Maybe it’s not so lollipops and rainbows when they leave Vegas? Like you should know this, even though it’s not lollipops? Right?

James Cook  01:12

Yeah, there are headwinds. I mean, I think that one of the things I track is absorption with folks that don’t know, that’s just overall leasing activity. And because of a lack of space, it’s down. Also, because of a couple of retailers that were expanding that aren’t any more and a few closures. The expansion isn’t as strong as it was like a year and two years ago. But I mean, a big part of that is just that the vacancy is so low, there’s just not that much space to lease.

Chris Ressa  01:43

Yeah. I mean, if we had, would you expect if like, we had more vacancy, let’s see a mass store closure, that it would be chewed up pretty quickly? Yeah, I

James Cook  01:53

Yeah I think so. Yeah. I mean, it depends on what it is. So like, if it was a, you know, a box, that a lot of you know, there’s a lot of demand for, you know, I’d see that. I mean, if it’s if it’s a retailer, that’s maybe they’re closing because they weren’t great at site selection, I think it would take a lot longer. But overall, yeah, no, I think it would.

Chris Ressa  02:14

So I recently saw you do a presentation on artificial intelligence.

James Cook  02:19

That’s right.

Chris Ressa  02:20

I was mind blown. Are you seeing any signs of the people at this show taking to?

James Cook  02:27

So I have, I’ve had some AI meetings today, some actual real life AI practitioners who are trying to sell their wares to the retail real estate industry. And I would say, there’s so much power there. But figuring out how to translate it into our business is the trick. And I meet with people who are technology people and don’t understand the business, or I’ll see business people that don’t really understand the technology. And so there’s this real mismatch. Somebody’s gonna figure it out.

Chris Ressa  02:58


James Cook  02:58

But I’m still waiting.

Chris Ressa  03:00

Well one of the things that was we were talking about earlier today is that the information and industry is pretty fragmented. So, let’s say you wanted to do something on lease data, well it’s private contracts, it’s not available, even the artificial intelligence to get it. So to use artificial intelligence to do something with it is, I think, impossible at the moment, right. Like, what is market rents? Well, that comes from like, what are people asking in rents? Right, Costar actually calls people to find out what market rents are, I think it’s hard to because we’re so fragmented to figure out how to use it.

James Cook  03:36

Yeah. So the company I work for, we’re really big, and we’re global. So we execute a lot of leases. And they’re all in like, PDFs, right? Yeah. And so we can get an AI to go read every lease. I feel like there’s some awesome global insights that could give us, that’s kind of the vision, but to your point, real estate, it’s real. Yeah, computers can’t go out and walk the property. So because of that, I’m not as worried for us as I am for other industries.

Chris Ressa  04:04

That’s a good point. It is real, real estate is real. The real state of real estate by James Cook. So you mentioned trends. What are some of the trends you’re seeing that like you’re keep you keep speaking about the people you want people to know?

James Cook  04:19

Well, I just, we just released a report today on celebrity backed restaurants, which is kind of a niche.

Chris Ressa  04:27

 Oh yeah

James Cook  04:28

So last year, we did a report on Celebrity retail, which seemed to be exploding.

Chris Ressa  04:32

Yeah, with Rihanna, right?

James Cook  04:35

And then we’re like, yeah, and Rihanna has Savage X Fenty, which is right across the street at a fashion show Mall. So we noticed, anecdotally that there were a lot more celebrity restaurants ,so like, TV stars and movie stars, like Mark Wahlberg. Yeah, like, like all of the celebrity chefs and like sports people like Shaq’s Big Chicken. And we’re like, it seems like there’s been

Chris Ressa  05:00

Peyton Manning’s in every Papa John’s commercial, right.

James Cook  05:02

And Drew Brees, a bunch of chains. So anyway, we actually crunched the numbers. And we created an entire database of celebrity restaurants going back the past five years. And between 2020 and 2021, the number of new celebrity restaurants more than doubled. Wow. And it stayed at that elevated level since then. And so our thesis is the restaurant scene is so overcrowded, it’s so tough to be heard by a landlord, that if you have a celebrity attached to your brand, that’s a little thing that can help you get noticed. Now, obviously you got to have a good operations team and you got to have good food. Although I gotta say, Chris, I’ve eaten it a lot of these places, and they don’t all have good food, I’m not saying which. But not always. Celebrity doesn’t always mean you’re a good cook.

Chris Ressa  05:51

I went to a place called The Black Sheep.

James Cook  05:53

Oh, that sounds familiar.

Chris Ressa  05:55

It’s off the strip. Yeah. It might be the best piece of fish I ever had in the desert.

James Cook  06:01

Oh, okay.

Chris Ressa  06:02

Yes, The Black Sheep. So if you want a good spot off the strip, The Black Sheep.

James Cook  06:05

Okay, I’ll check it out.

Chris Ressa  06:06

Check it out. Yeah. All right. Well, James, I really appreciate you coming here. This was awesome. Thanks for your insights. What do you want to leave everyone with?

James Cook  06:15

Hey, check out our celebrity retail report. I’m sorry. Check out our celebrity restaurant report. It’s over at and it’s free to download so you’ll enjoy it, all about food.

Chris Ressa  06:28

Have you read our white paper yet?

James Cook  06:29

I have it right here. I’m gonna take it home with me tonight and read it as I’m going to bed.

Chris Ressa  06:33

Awesome. Thanks James.

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