Ten Retail Trends for 2012 — And Beyond

by Nate Hunter

Ten trends architects are seeing in retail as they work on future projects.

In an uncertain economic environment, it is more important than ever to understand the underlying trends in retail, what is important to the customer and what solutions work. There is no longer a “one-size-fits-all” approach to retail development. Each project presents unique opportunities.

1. The Retail Experience
Because of the continuing growth of online retailing, convenience and experience are more important than ever in retail design. Shopping centers need to continue to give people a reason visit. The social experience of shopping is the best weapon the shopping center has to defend itself from online retailing.

2. Convenience
Customers are looking for ways to simplify and to improve the quality of their lives. People in their 20s and 30s are renting more and buying less. Customers want to get merchandise easily and they want to be more mobile, not being tied down by traditional home ownership. This trend will continue to manifest itself in live/work/shop projects that minimize time spent in the car and maximize social and recreational time.

3. The (Luxury) Mall Is Not Dead
The mall is not dead, especially fortress malls that offer luxury goods. Sales, rents, and absorption in these properties have recovered following the recession. These properties continue to refine themselves and add the latest fashion and food offerings drawing customers from an ever-increasing geographic radius.

4. The (Fortress) Mall Is Not Dead
Malls with great locations and strong anchors continue to show the staying power of the enclosed format. Twelve month shopping regardless of weather has always been a unique offering at the mall. The relevance of the enclosed mall has been reinforced now that the industry understands that outdoor formats are not necessarily cheaper to build or operate.

5. Reinvent The Old Instead Of Building New
Secondary malls must reinvent themselves with new updated design, new fashion, and new food offerings. Secondary properties will need to reduce or eliminate their interior mall space and add exterior oriented space. New “anchors” such as grocery and discount stores need to be a part of the mix and the addition of office and residential space needs to be considered. Absorption of retail square footage remains relatively flat decreasing the need for new retail space and complicating the financing of new construction. Instead, now is the time to reconfigure and repurpose space to maximize the value of existing assets and create new reasons for customers to visit older properties.

6. Smaller Stores
Retailers, especially discounters and electronics merchants are experimenting with smaller formats closely integrated with their online retailing initiatives. Showrooming, where the customer views the product in a store but orders it online, is accelerating this trend as well as retailers looking for smaller formats to use in under-served urban areas.
This trend will begin to impact how shopping centers are planned and designed. There is already a trend to fewer, more carefully selected anchors. We also see tenants more willing to explore urban planning solutions.

7. Increasing Sustainability
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important. Educated customers are aware of the issue and expect a sustainable “story” in the project. They want to patron shopping centers and retailers that are good environmental citizens. They impact of this trend will continue to be felt in building materials, lighting, climate control systems, security, and signage. Our clients are increasingly asking for more energy efficiency and lower operating costs.

8. Integrate Technology
Technology will continue to impact the shopping center. Customers will expect information to be delivered to their smart phones, they will expect public wifi and they will use interactive kiosks and directories to get more information faster.

9. Open Space/Green Space
Many projects are going beyond simply providing an outdoor format to providing significant open space and green space as a part of the retail experience. Open space provides a setting for spontaneous and programmed uses, creates a focus to the project and can create better integration with the surrounding community. Open spaces can create compelling settings for restaurants and play areas for families with children.

10. Contemporary, International Design
Our clients are watching retail trends around the world and looking for ways to apply what they see at home. The general public is embracing contemporary design in ways not seen since the 1950s and 60s. These trends are changing architecture and creating new opportunities for innovation and fresh solutions.


— Tipton Housewright is principal at Omniplan, an architecture firm based in Dallas.



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