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As retailers head into the holiday shopping season, the value of live experiences that immerse consumers into the world of their favorite brand can’t be underestimated. At the Viacom/Nickelodeon Consumer Products Partner Summit held Tuesday at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles, Variety hosted a panel featuring five industry experts to discuss the state of retail, licensing and merchandising in an internet-based, post-Toys R Us world.

“Consumers are choosing retailers that are really inspiring, really engaging,” said William White, senior vice president of marketing at Target. The retail giant has recently invested $7 billion back into the business, which will go in part toward remodeling stores to improve the customer experience through an easy-to-navigate retail environment. 

When it comes to engaging the consumer, the conversation kept coming back to creating the kinds of immersive experiences that allow consumers to interact directly with their favorite characters.

“Live experiences really matter,” said Pamela Kaufman, president of Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products. “We did this amazing program. .. we allowed the consumer to come to Westfield [mall] and dress up as [Nick Jr. characters] Shimmer and Shine, or interact with [Teenage Mutant Ninja] Turtles. That was a way for kids and family to experience the Nickelodeon brand in a completely unique way.”

Despite the onslaught of demand for online shopping and an increasing interest in virtual reality and artificial intelligence, “People still want a place to hang out,” said Anthony Sion, senior vice president of brand marketing at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. Sion talked about his efforts to make Century City Mall a place a comfortable environment where customers can bring their families for a casual night out, not only shop and eat, but to “unwind,” he said.

His goal is for Century City to be “a place to go and find something a little bit unexpected,” like a musical performance, a Louis-Vuitton installation, or an immersive experience with Nickelodeon characters.

“I think the family wants to spend as much time together, they want to do as many things together, which is why shopping and being in these amazing places are so important,” Kaufman said. “Everybody wants to share what they grew up with with their kids.”

Now, with so many classic franchises being reinvented, like the “Transformers” franchise — “Bumblebee” toys are anticipated to be a big hit this holiday season when the movie comes out next month — parents are able to bond with their children over brands they remember from their own childhoods.

“There’s more fans on this planet than ever before,” said Samantha Lomow, president of Hasbro Entertainment Brands. “Everybody’s a fan of something … there’s just this desire to experience brands that you love in different ways.”

“I experienced it for years with ‘The Simpsons’ when I was at Fox,” said Gary Krakower, vice president of licensing at IMG, which oversees merchandise for popular video game Fortnite. “We had families that would watch them because it’s what they grew up with, it was part of their childhood. They’re sharing their experience with their kids.”

The panel was moderated by Variety’s co-editor-in-chief, Andrew Wallenstein.