What Shapes Retail Design in 2017?
As 2016 rolled into 2017, we saw a significant number of large and established retailers closing multiple locations—including Sears, Kmart, the Limited, and American Apparel, to name a few—creating an immediate void in major shopping centers around the country. Moves to fill that space post haste has caused a notable shift in the retail industry in a short period. This clearly sets apart shopping for convenience versus destinations that provide an experience. For the same reason the 1099-labor force works in coffee shops rather than working from home, retail environments in 2017 are places to gather and connect with family and friends. The diametric opposite of an online shopping experience, brick and mortar locations provide unique and unpredictable interactions that connect us back to humanity.
Convenience akin to online shopping can be challenging to achieve within today’s shopping centers or shopping malls—especially when you can shop with Alexa and Google Home from your couch. But the omni-channel experience that leverages immersive marketing, from ads to special events to social media, has integrated both digital and analogue experiences. Online retailers are moving from site to store, such as AmazonGo and Rent the Runway stores. More and more frequently, traditional retailer and e-commerce strategies are crossing over and meeting in the middle.
Shopping centers as destinations is not a new concept. DLR Group pioneered retail environments that offer unique experiences, such as the Mall of America’s indoor amusement park, 25 years ago. We now design experiences that affirm how people connect and gather. Creating unique, snap-able or gram-able destinations is vital for a shopping center’s success. Our goal is to achieve synergy among retailers that are targeting a common group of end users, and designing a program that supports those goals. A cinema, for example requires a cohesive leasing strategy that targets core movie-goer audiences of families, millennials, and tweeners who carry major buying power. Today, our work designing retail and lifestyle centers aims to refine that theory on a different level with supportive and flexible spaces for a variety of events, from concerts to fashion shows. You go to shop but you stay for the experience.
Food as a Connector
In 2016, food was a real estate anchor. This year, it facilitates a communal experience. You can cook at home, or order delivery, but that’s not the experience of true customer service and gathering with friends and family. Moving forward, food is fostering genuine, human experiences that are helping to transition shopping centers to community hubs. Restaurants, coffees shops, and cocktail bars are immersions into a unique community. A current project in Los Angeles, for example, curates a food market experience to bring creative gourmet culinary concepts to broader market masses by engaging a new audience, hungry for a different kind of experience.
Respect is the new brand advocacy. Modern consumers support brands that align with their own personal values and make decisions that endorse dignity. Now that we post not just what we do but what we buy and eat, this connection is critical. Brands want to earn respect of consumers, so we’re helping our clients create opportunities to share those positions, as integrated brand messaging— be it Made in America, eco-friendly manufacturing, or something entirely unique. In Los Angeles, a local community in Beverly Hills prioritized local farming and agriculture with approvals to develop a mixed-use urban refill project featuring an organic, gourmet market and farm-to-table café.
With so many stores in a state of flux, there’s a lot of adaptive space available. Smaller footprints can be less daunting for developers and consumers alike, and afford greater agility to meet changes in the market with more local service. This allows for a higher quality of delivery because sites and locations can be more manageable.
Micro-footprints can also afford more risk-taking. Pop-ups can be the ideal solution for experimentation, testing new locations or product partnerships, and the crafting of unique experiences. Temporary status and one-off products can create a buzzworthy sense of urgency, potentially boosting sales. Almost like a trailer for a movie, brands can develop a fan base with a teaser and more confidently forge product success at rollout, while simultaneously delivering a new way to experience the product. Right now, we’re designing the first pop-up outlet for Randy’s Donuts, the iconic donut shop of Los Angeles. In close collaboration with our client, we are evolving the brand to connect to a new generation of clientele with clever nods to the original location including references to the iconic rooftop donut and displaying their famous donuts, connecting customers to the history that made the brand famous.