Amazon workers

Workers push carts full of merchandise at the Amazon.com Phoenix Fulfillment Center

Neil Nisperos, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/03/2013 06:33:48 PM PST
Updated: 02/03/2013 11:02:23 PM PST

The growing popularity of buying products through the Internet and from bargain retailers is fueling big changes in the Inland Empire’s retail real estate market, experts say.

With more people shopping and receiving media content on tablets and smartphones, the number of large brick- and-mortar stores is shrinking.

The vacancy rate at Inland Empire shopping centers and strip malls improved by a percentage point or two over the past year. But the sharp overall rise from 5 percent at the height of the market in 2007 to today’s vacancy rate of about 9 percent is a direct result of technological advances and ramped-up competition from discounters like Costco and Walmart, according to experts.

Challenges facing this sector of the real estate market were among the highlights in area developer Randall Lewis’ recent annual keynote speech in Rancho Cucamonga to the regional real estate community.

Lewis, vice president of the Lewis Operating Group of Companies, cited the high number of “for sale” and “for lease” signs on shopping center properties in the region. He projects “continued turmoil” as Internet sales grab more brick-and-mortar shopping dollars.

“Retailing is going through changes and so the Internet is taking a larger share, and it’s expected that will continue,” he said. “We’re definitely seeing bookstores being challenged by companies like Amazon, and I think people are seeing electronics as a category that’s been challenged.

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