Adapting to the ‘New Normal’ and Beyond in Retail: Emerging Trends to Know

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Retail as a sector has historically shifted and evolved, reflecting cultural trends and the demands of the ever-changing marketplace. With the continued rise of eCommerce and the pandemic, the retail sector has experienced unprecedented challenges and changes at an especially rapid pace over the past several years.

Many stakeholders have had to quickly devise and implement strategic, forward-thinking solutions, including adapting their physical retail spaces and reevaluating their tenant mixes, to meet the demands of consumers.

As shopping centers begin to welcome back consumers at higher rates following the pandemic, it is important for developers to know what design and layout trends are most important to consumers.

With many consumers feeling a renewed desire for human interaction and in-person, in-store shopping, these next few years will be a critical time to capture guests and keep them coming back for more. Below, we explore a few of the shopping center design and programming trends that are helping retail owners come out ahead.

Unique, Robust Experiences

Prior to the pandemic, online alternatives for shopping and entertainment put pressure on traditional shopping centers and retailers to incorporate more experiential tenants and elements.

Going forward, shopping centers will increasingly serve as all-in-one locations where visitors can shop, dine, and gather in the same place. Retail destinations – whether an individual retailer or center as a whole – should have a distinct brand identity that tells a story and evokes emotion for consumers.

The Gallery Sportsman’s Club and RangeIn some cases, we’re seeing unique retailers act as complete standalone experiences that can also double as anchor tenants and help drive foot traffic to surrounding retail as well. For example, we recently worked on The Gallery Sportsman’s Club and Range, the Denver area’s first experiential shooting range. We designed this space with the intention of delivering an immersive and visually compelling experience that establishes brand awareness with consumers.

With 15 shooting lanes, a virtual shooting range, private gunsmith, full-service lounge featuring a full bar and kitchen, walk-up coffee bar, and over 3,000 square feet of retail, all serve to provide an innovative approach to a contemporary and sophisticated multi-use facility.

Making consumers feel like they are receiving a one-of-a-kind experience in a space that conveys a narrative and encourages human connection is essential to receiving return customers.

Strategically Programmed Outdoor Spaces

Intentionally programmed outdoor spaces were emerging as a trend even before the pandemic, as retail owners sought new ways to attract customers and create synergy. For health and safety reasons, during the pandemic, outdoor spaces naturally became necessary for many retail centers to remain open and sustain business.

Exterior areas at shopping centers are continuing to be converted into spaces where people can gather and socialize in between their shopping and dining activities, or even during, accommodating pop-up kiosks and picnic areas.

We expect this trend to continue, as retail owners and tenants utilize outdoor areas as another way to monetize their space, accommodate more customers, and provide extra room for customers to gather and interact. These outdoor spaces can be further enhanced by adding items such as fire pits and heating towers that encourage fresh air flow.

For instance, Nadel recently designed a shopping center in Southern California to be equipped with several outdoor amenities to help encourage customers to linger longer at the space, leading to increased time at the center and increased spending with nearby retailers. This was achieved by strategically infusing relaxing gathering places with beautiful outdoor amenities and furniture and attractive landscaping.

Community Connections

Shopping centers are increasingly diversifying and becoming true neighborhood hubs of many communities. To make the most of this positioning, these centers should integrate seamlessly and be a part of the very fabric of their environment to resonate with the local community and draw in visitors again and again.

freedom plazaAs an example, at Freedom Plaza, a neighborhood center in Watts, California, this placemaking was established through building architecture, artwork, and other amenities that reflected the culture of the urban area.

The design has an industrial sensibility to match the city, and the murals, completed by local artists, are contemporary and bright to represent the residents’ lives and inspire hope for their future. Additional elements include a custom water feature that highlights phrases and graphics that celebrate the local culture.

For retail spaces, design elements that embody the culture of the community are a meaningful way to connect with consumers and make them feel both comfortable and represented in a space.

With the ongoing rebound of the retail sector, it’s important that designers and developers consider the changing needs of consumers and evaluate each location individually to achieve a space best suited to a location’s demands, environment, and spirit.

Creating experiences, having engaging outside spaces, and fostering a connection to the community are essential in capturing consumer attention and securing returning customers.


greg lyonGreg Lyon
Chairman and Principal, Nadel Architects

Greg Lyon is Chairman of the Board and Principal at Nadel Architects. Greg has over 25 years of industry experience and joined Nadel in 2008. Greg Lyon currently represents the firm in the retail market sector; strategically driving business growth, as well as creating a strong market presence and brand equity for Nadel. In addition, he has authored and developed many of the strategies through which Nadel has positioned itself as a trendsetter and leader within the marketplace.

metamorphosis of retail

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