COVID-19 Retail Design Looks to Busiest Airports
As the world prepares to return to the routine functions of life – working, shopping, meeting, playing – we’re all considering what changes need to be made in every area of commerce. For shopping center projects, the real estate and design industries are asking: What will property owners do beyond operational adjustments? How will consumers rebuild their trust and peace of mind related to health and wellbeing while they shop? How will the industry adapt to these concerns in both the short-term and long-term planning of these spaces?
Shopping center designers are assessing public spaces and taking note particularly of lessons learned from our busiest airports which move hundreds of thousands of people through them each day. And although we may see extreme changes in post-pandemic airport design, they offer multiple layers of solutions based on one unique element – luggage. This element is comparable to shoppers carrying large packages of purchased merchandise through a mall. Making it easier for the shopper to manage and feel safe returning to a mall post-COVID-19, we must consider the factors that need to change from the perspective of the consumer’s journey.
In an airport you never have to go through a manually operated door to enter or exit a retail store or restaurant. Even restrooms are designed for luggage with easy access in and out without any doors to open or close. Airports are designed to get people through them and around them with their hands full. This simple solution applied to shopping centers will help ensure the health of shoppers by eliminating the need to touch handles and other surfaces.
LAX Airport Terminal 2 in Los Angeles by DLR Group. Photo by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield.
Enclosed malls and traditional shopping centers often feature manual doors and other courses of entry that require physical touch. Post COVID-19 shoppers will be more concerned with health, and proximity to others in public settings. Property owners of shopping centers will need to address these concerns and remove these barriers, including the need to open doors and touch surfaces. Brick-and-mortar retail may offer more immediate comfort at outdoor shopping centers with open storefronts and ways to maneuver through people and physical barriers.
Entry Sequencing for Health and Wellness
Shopping centers will also control points of entry to measure the health of their customers before they enter the shopping center. Not unlike security at an airport, customers will have to go through some “measurement system” to ensure they are healthy to enter the establishment. The shopping centers that “brand” themselves safe and have health controls in place will be more desirable than others, and will gain that competitive advantage. Moving through these areas quickly is key to success. Think TSA Pre-check for shopping centers.
The Mall of America expansion in Bloomington, Minnesota by DLR Group. Image © DLR Group.
Larger mixed-use projects, similar to airports, now have hotels, retail, dining and entertainment that millions of people pass through every year, becoming miniature cities with an influx of daily population moving through. Mall of America, for example, has more visitors each year than Disneyland and Walt Disney World combined. What airports do better than shopping malls is mobility management and how they stage people and allow people to move through the space. Some newer airports also take a heightened approach to wayfinding, helping people move from one place to another with visual cues to move passengers through a space with more efficiency. For retail, digital technology allows multiple modalities for purchase of the same items, rather than in one retail store.
Product Delivery Options
The outside experience at shopping centers will also need to adapt to short- and long-term needs for curbside pick-up and customer queuing. Airports use large customer drop-off and pick-up areas and larger sidewalks to accommodate this activity. As more customers use curbside pick-up, retailers will have to adapt to this change. Many retailers have already introduced separate areas for online pick-up, and we will see more efforts in these areas. It is only a matter of time before we see large, obsolete loading areas being repositioned for customer pick-up coordination.
The one thing that we can count on is that things will always change, and we will once again face new and unknown challenges. As history has shown after each global crisis, we can expect to see consumer demand in changes to the way we do business. Design professionals have always held the role of problem solvers in planning for the unknown future. For this crisis, we do not have to re-create the wheel to understand what needs to change in shopping malls. Carry-on luggage and heightened security has changed airport design; so too health, wellness, and trust of the consumer will forever change retail design.