What’s Next for Retail Design

What’s Next for Retail Design

Technology is fundamentally changing the way consumers shop both online and in brick and mortar stores. Even as new opportunities to shop online emerge, consumers still want to see, touch and test products before they buy.

In-store purchases represent 80 percent of all retail commerce and $4.7 trillion in spending in the US alone1.

Value and convenience are increasingly important, but shoppers still want opportunities for human interaction, entertainment and sensory exploration.

To keep pace with customers’ expectations and desires, retailers must rely on smart retail design to remain relevant in this rapidly changing environment.

By examining the influences that are shaping retail innovation, architects and retailers alike can be better poised to meet tomorrow’s design challenges.

An Increased Focus on Brand Identity

Retailers are no longer just selling products. Increasingly, they are also selling culture or emotional ROI. As technology brings us closer together and increases awareness, consumers want to shop at socially conscious businesses. A popular shoe company and a budding eyewear retailer both offer the same promise: For every pair of shoes or glasses purchased, another pair will be distributed to someone in need.

In physical stores, retail design will be critical as brands tell these stories in overt and subtle ways. Displays, signage and marketing materials will always have their place, but design choices can also articulate a retailer’s mission. Commitment to sustainable living is communicated through bike racks, electric car charging stations and rainwater collection bins.   

Spaces for Engagement Remain Critical to Retail Environments

The sensory experience cannot be duplicated online—at least not yet. Retailers are capitalizing on consumers’ desire for sensory engagement by offering experiences or entertainment alongside their products. Blended service offerings like wine bars, coffee shops and music venues continue to rise in popularity in retail environments.

Shoppers can now schedule a grocery pick up or have edibles delivered to their door, but only the consumer can smell a melon to test for their desired ripeness. The need to touch, taste, smell or hear products drives consumers to brick and mortar stores, but carefully crafted environments that enhance the shopping experience will invite customers to explore further. Continually evolving displays give customers something new to discover each time they shop.

Additionally, areas for consumers to interact with each other and with the product or service provider are on the rise. Shoppers like to meet the farmer who grew their vegetables or watch the artisan crafting their beer. Spaces for social gatherings like yoga classes, cooking demonstrations or running clubs create a sense of place and fierce brand loyalty to retailers.

55 percent of consumers surveyed chose “an in-store experience that entertains me” as one of the most exciting ideas for the future of retail.3

Large, impersonal stores are giving way to smaller, more intimate spaces tailored to regional preferences and needs. Retailers are placing a greater emphasis on outdoor spaces and integrated communities where retail shops, restaurants and living spaces comingle. These hubs of activity are growing outside of the dense urban settings where they once exclusively resided.                     

Spaces that will delight consumers and encourage engagement are a wise investment for retailers in this changing landscape.

Digital & Physical Worlds Continue to Mix

The convenience and customization of e-commerce cannot be ignored. However, retailers who embrace the digital experience online and in their physical stores will be well positioned in the future.

Emerging technology like interactive dressing room mirrors allow shoppers to touch the mirror screen to see product info, request another size or buy from the dressing room.3 A popular jewelry retailer already offers shoppers the opportunity to customize pieces through an interactive touch screen. Customers can test different stone colors and finishes before the jewelry is assembled onsite.

Customization will become even more sophisticated with virtual reality and 3D printing. Furniture shoppers will be able to see how the display couch they are sitting on will look in their living room or how the latest paint color transforms their room. 3D printing and automation will create bespoke clothing at the touch of a button.

Technology will continue to transform how consumers pay for merchandise. Self-checkouts will give way to sensors that detect what items are in shoppers’ carts and charge accordingly. Biometric scanners and RFID in cellphones will replace credit cards.

Online and in-store shopping will continue to merge as the “ship to store” and “proof of inventory” options gain acceptance and accuracy with improved databases.

These advances will cause retail design to shift as stores are required to perform double duty as physical stores and distribution centers to support online retail. Future innovations will demand complex databases and networks that will need to be accounted for in the design and building process. Physical spaces for 3D printing and virtual reality may need to be added while checkout lanes and customer service counters may be eliminated entirely.      

Partners in Innovation

Retail architects must partner with clients to successfully integrate emerging technology in design. Today’s architects must ask the right questions to determine what technological advances solve problems and address business goals instead of aimlessly chasing trends or incorporating technology for technology’s sake.

However, even with the continued acceleration of technological advancements, innovation will never totally replace interaction. Customers will always need space to explore and engage. Effective retail design can balance both of these interests and enhance the shopping experience.    


  1. https://www.emarketer.com/Article/US-Retail-Sales-Near-5-Trillion-2016/1013368
  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeljones/2016/04/19/whats-next-for-retail/#7f1746d11008
  1. http://newsroom.synchronyfinancial.com/document-library/future-retail-0