The New Retail Anchor Combating E-Commerce: An Experience-Driven Design

by Alex Tostado

Written by Greg Lyon, principal and design director for Nadel Architecture + Planning

Retail destinations have undergone an evolution over the past several years. The sharp rise of e-commerce has resulted in retail owners and developers working to ensure they are creating internet-resistant shopping centers that will stand the test of time.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the already-robust discussion surrounding incorporating more service-based retailers and items that consumers simply can’t get online.

Greg Lyon, Nadel Architecture + Planning

While these are certainly important components, one of the most essential aspects of an internet-resistant center is its design. This is why we believe that the new retail anchor is the retail destination’s overall environment. Shoppers today crave environments where they can gather, socialize and spend time — safely — with friends and family.

The design of a retail destination plays a crucial role in creating this environment and delivering that ultimate experience where shoppers want to return time and time again.

So how do developers achieve this and create “the place people go” in a community?

With nearly 50 years of experience and more than 500 retail design projects completed, here are the top ways to create an internet-resistant retail destination through thoughtful and strategic design.

  1. Make it Authentic to That Specific Community

If you want to create an experience-driven environment that will attract consumers, you first have to understand what consumers in that specific area want and need.

Each community is different and will be looking for different elements in a retail destination. It is extremely important for developers, retail owners and architects to understand the demographics and psychographics of the local community and cater the design to speak to those residents.

We never take a one-size-fits-all approach to any of our retail center designs. We look at the expectation of the community and we work hard to understand who is going to hang out there and how the space is going to support those people.

For example, if the center is located in a warmer climate, we might work with the developer to incorporate a water feature that serves as a central gathering space, as well as works to cool off the immediate area. If the local area attracts senior citizens, we may incorporate more comfortable furniture for people to relax away from the crowds and spend their time with friends and family. Additionally, if we believe that visitors are going to be coming to the center with their dogs, we will cater to that need and incorporate a dog park into the design.

Overall, each of these features aids in creating that experience-driven environment for shoppers while also taking into account the demands of the area. This ultimately results in longer lengths of stay at a retail destination because the experience is specifically catered to them.

  1. Incorporate Unique Spaces that Breed Connection

Shoppers today want all-in-one locations where they can shop, dine and gather in the same place. This is why we incorporate unique gathering spaces that are strategically placed throughout a center where shoppers can socially distance and still establish connections.

For example, at Renaissance Marketplace in Rialto, California, where we recently completed the design of this 500,000 square-foot center, we incorporated into the design a variety of creative “outdoor living rooms,” which serve as comfortable gathering spaces for its community members.

Our goal was to deliver a warm and comfortable environment that would result in repeat visits and increased foot traffic. The “outdoor living rooms” were inspired by features often found in an individual’s home such as lounge furniture, WiFi connection, firepits, etc. This ultimately created an environment where people want to spend their discretionary time.

In fact, Renaissance Marketplace is not anchored by a single large tenant, which is demonstrative of how impactful design is on creating the new experience-driven anchor.

  1. Don’t Forget the Wow Factor

One of the most important items in regard to creating experience-driven environments is incorporating a “wow factor,” or a central gathering space that incorporates a unique design element that will draw shoppers in.

This can include a variety of items, whether it is a large-scale interactive water feature, dynamic digital graphics or public art elements among others.

We recently completed the retail portion of a large redevelopment in Los Angeles, Jordan Downs, where we incorporated a public art component.

The goal of the public art component is to draw residents from the neighboring Jordan Downs residential community. By creating this “wow factor” component through public art, we are able to create a public space that honors the site’s heritage while looking ahead to the aspirations of the community’s future. We believe this will resonate with residents and the local community.

Overall, as the retail landscape has continued to evolve, so has the standard anchor tenant — and both will adapt even further in the COVID-19 era. Experience-driven design has become increasingly more important in driving foot traffic to a retail destination. Developers who partner with architects who understand this and cater designs to draw in shoppers will be the most successful in 2020 and beyond.

Greg Lyon is principal and design director of Nadel Architecture + Planning, a Los Angeles-based architecture and design firm. More information is available at

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