Sustainable Design and Retail Architecture Trends On the Horizon

Online ordering. In-store pickup. Cashierless checkouts. Urgent care services in retail settings.  Chances are, you’re familiar with these retail architecture trends. A lot is happening when it comes to developing trends in the retail sector, especially in the veins of sustainable design and grocery. For us, as a national architecture firm, that means a lot is happening for our team of top retail architects.

We recently sat down with SGA Design Group’s Director of Sustainability Kim Limbaugh, Senior Grocery Designer Chris Sutton, and Principal Douglas Tayrien to learn what trends involving sustainable design and grocery will have the most impact on retail architecture in the future. With the convergence of digital and brick-and-mortar retail, you can bet there’s a lot of exciting technology and service offerings on the horizon. This will continue to affect how consumers shop and interact with retailers.


A Sustainable Future for Retail Architecture and Beyond

In her role as Director of Sustainability, Kim Limbaugh stays on top of the latest sustainable design strategies and best practices. Limbaugh says that Energy Efficiency has taken a leap this year with updates to the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) market data, making the requirements for EPA’s ENERGY STAR® certification more stringent than ever. As a national architecture firm involved with sustainable design, higher energy efficiency standards like these are what we strive for.

Partnership, Limbaugh says, is something we see more of when it comes to sustainable architecture and design. “One example is the U.S. Green Building Council® (USGBC) and BRE Group® (BRE) announcing a partnership that will combine the expertise of both organizations. Today, the LEED® rating system and BREEAM® are the two most widely used green building programs in the world.”  According to the USGBC®, “to-date there are more than 167,000 projects registered to LEED and BREEAM, and collectively both programs help form one of the largest industry networks focused on delivering a better outcome for our built and natural environment.” These project figures demonstrate the significance of this recent collaboration.

Also, concerning sustainable design, there’s a new LEED certification. Launched by the USGBC in late 2018, LEED Zero certification recognizes buildings and spaces that operate with net zero carbon emissions, energy use, water use and/or waste.

According to the USGBC, “For years, LEED projects around the world have aspired to net zero energy, net zero water, and net zero waste milestones. It’s time we recognize the leadership of projects — and formalize the commitment to net zero across the entire LEED community. That’s why we’re announcing a new Net Zero certification program that gives the green building community a new standard to strive for.”

Lastly, related to sustainable design, the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) undertaking is yet another significant initiative. According to their site, “100 Resilient Cities is dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.” Limbaugh says smart growth, equitable development, and environmental justice are at the forefront of this initiative “We are proud our home office is in Tulsa, OK, a member city of the 100RC network,” said Limbaugh.

Beyond these sustainable design trends, the wellness and biomimicry sectors will continue to grow and converge through the use of nature-inspired design to foster wellness.


Grocery Store Retail Design Trends

It’s no secret that one of the most significant grocery and retail trends today involves online ordering. Virtually all major retailers offer consumers some form of online ordering and fulfillment. According to Senior Grocery Designer Chris Sutton, “The current drive is to compete for customer loyalty and trust with home delivery and in-store pickup.” Sutton also says same day to “within-the-hour” delivery services will become available. Currently, Postmates, Uber, and Doordash are just a few of the top companies involved with home delivery in major cities across the United States and elsewhere.


New Technology Considerations for the Retail Architecture and Design of Stores

SGA Principal Doug Tayrien believes offerings like home delivery services, as well as online grocery shopping and on-site store pickup, are poised for significant growth and change. “Companies like Cleveron, Nuro, and Udelv are currently testing autonomous robotic delivery systems. Grocery stores will need to be designed to make these on-site and autonomous delivery systems as efficient as possible.” As retail architects, such trends dictate new architectural considerations to accommodate changing consumer shopping expectations and habits.

But Sutton adds, “Expect to see a more focused effort from grocery retailers to provide exceptional in-store experiences and higher quality food to keep customers in brick and mortar stores.” Between elevated in-store culinary experiences and arrival of home meal delivery services, Sutton believes retailers will operate with an increased focus on transparency when it comes to food preparation and ingredients.

Tayrien agrees. “Stores like ALDI, Sprouts, Trader Joes and Lidl are selling few or only one brand of a product, in many cases their own brand. Those products are high quality and very cost competitive.” Tayrien believes customers want smaller, easier and quicker-to-shop stores with high-quality products and limited choices. “Lower shelves, wider aisles, and better lighting are being used to make the products look better and easier to shop.”


Cashier-less Stores and Retail Architecture

With their cashier-less Amazon Go stores, Amazon leveraged cutting-edge technology to make a significant change to how customers shop and interact with the retail environment. By using sensors, geofencing and smart-phone payment, Amazon Go allows customers to simply pick up the items of their choosing and walk out without having to stop and check out.

Standard Cognition wants to retire the familiar retail checkout experience elsewhere with an artificial intelligence solution that foregoes any checkout stop. And they aren’t the only ones. Zippin seeks to eliminate the checkout process with their software platform designed around cameras and sensors that detect items as they are handled.

The reality is, it’s only a matter of time until the technology is perfected and customers understand the convenience. However, it will be important for retailers to avoid alienating customers who want or need a more traditional transaction. For example, Amazon Go is working on “additional payment mechanisms” to process cash transactions and allow customers who may not have credit and bank accounts to shop in their stores. Flexibility like this is an important concept to keep in mind.


These are just a few of the latest trends shaping today’s retail architecture.  As trends continue to develop and emerge, SGA Design Group’s retail architects will continue to learn, adapt, and lead.