Retail

Retail Designers Innovate Despite Pandemic

retail mall

Many retailers are in survival mode and focused strictly on revenue due to the pandemic’s effect on brick-and-mortar foot traffic. But that doesn’t mean that less tangible efforts aren’t pushing on. Retail design, for example, is still innovating with the customer experience in mind. But that design is trying to play defense against, instead of including, the digital shift.

“One of the most essential aspects of an internet-resistant center is its design,” Greg Lyon, principal and design director of Los Angeles-based architecture and design firm Nadel Architecture + Planning, writes in Shopping Center Business. “This is why we believe that the new retail anchor is the retail destination’s overall environment. Shoppers today crave environments where they can gather, socialize and spend time — safely — with friends and family.”

Creating an “internet resistant” design in the days of appointment shopping and curbside pickup is easier said than done. Lyon believes anchor tenants in malls can start by catering to the local community they’re trying to attract. For example, areas with high ratios of 65-plus consumers should have more social space and quiet areas. If a mall is in an area where young families with pets have a high quotient, include a dog park. The key to anchor tenancy, he says, is to create experiences that convince consumers to spend more time than they normally would at the location.

One of the projects that has been touted as the future of retail design is new Las Vegas retail development AREA15. It’s technically a shopping mall, but the experiential elements actually dominate the facility. For example, as they walk in, shoppers are met by an interactive, 12-foot tall skull covered in 3D projections. An exhibit uses virtual reality to give shoppers an aerial view of digital landscapes including New York City or prehistoric worlds. The mall’s owners claim that Haley’s Comet is the first indoor, electric dual-track suspension ride in the United States. The stores in the mall are actually a secondary attraction, but the time spent inside the mall is expected to be much higher than other centers.

“We set out to design something that has never been built before: a vast bunker to house the burgeoning experience economy,” Michael Beneville, founding partner and chief creative officer, said in a news release announcing the retail center’s Sept. 17 opening. “By creating and curating best-in-class experiences and partnering with immersive artists and makers at the vanguard of this movement, we have witnessed our vision come to life. This project embodies unbound innovation and creativity, and this opening will be the first step toward something truly magical. Come curious and leave different.”

Expect that retail design will have pockets of innovation like AREA15. After the coronavirus fades or is mitigated, brick-and-mortar locations will need to be “experiential” if consumers are to stay and buy “things.”

“We are in a moment of tension — people yearn to explore, yet they fear exploration will bring exposure. The biggest room for innovation lies in experiential escapes,” says Harvard Business Review. “For many, these terms bring up associations of VR headsets, dizzying screens, and loud spaces that scream ‘more is more.’ More restrained and effective expressions can be found in fashion brands like Acne, Celine, and Gentle Monster, where the store serves as an artistic escape into their brand ethos. Imaginative installations, rich materials, and a uniting storyline allow the space to speak for itself — the physical details, which go beyond a one-dimensional Instagram backdrop, embody the same feelings you associate with the brand.”

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