Designer Perspectives Series

Craig Stoner provides his take on the future of retail and the importance
of connecting the shopping experience to the great outdoors.

Malls and retail parks are about more than selling products. They are about offering experiences, shaping memories and drawing shoppers into environments that encourage them to pause and engage along their path to purchase. As the coronavirus has levied a need for social distancing and accelerated the pressures of online shopping, it becomes even more essential for EDSA to continue designing integrated open spaces that assimilate social offerings into the shopping experience to ensure the retail industry has the stamina to propel itself forward.

In a post pandemic world, outdoor retail spaces, such as walking malls, could see an uptick in the future. Properly designed, these spaces can provide the best of both worlds – an open network of wider walkways for safe community gatherings and access to multiple stores and dining alternatives. As such, retail destinations must be developed with larger narratives in mind – where shopping centers play the roles of sellers, storytellers and place makers alike. As landscape architects and planners, we are reflecting upon retail’s expanded purpose and innovating to create spaces that build loyalty and generate return visitation.

One way to do this is to bring nature inside by tapping biophilic design to connect retail space to the natural world. Making shoppers feel good, malls should consider enhancing interiors with skylights, courtyard gardens, water features and green walls; furnishings and flooring created from natural materials, preferably local; and sculptural elements composed of organic materials.

EDSA also recognizes the importance of designing more usable exterior space by reducing dedicated parking. Following the lead of cities that converted roadways into walkable social spaces, surrounding blacktops could be transformed into areas for outdoor dining, relaxation or immersive experiences such as interactive art. Too often we forget what makes malls special – a place to walk around and discover new things while picking something up in a store. Potential reprogramming of spaces provides opportunities to develop “retail-tainment” offerings that promote community brands with mixed-use alternatives that include multi-family housing, grocers, and entertainment uses.

Brinblankging these experiential moments forward and making them front and center to the retail destination is an important shift in how spaces will be used. From a design perspective, it entails creating ‘pockets’ for personalized experiences where consumers can ‘opt-in’ to the purchasing community. For example, in working with Baltimore-based developer Cordish Companies, EDSA is adding upscale retail and restaurants, a Top Golf driving range, a Mario Andretti Racing Experience, a grocer, an office complex, open green space and a lake to Live! Pompano in South Florida where the variety of options will encourage customers to linger and enjoy.

Shopping centers and malls aren’t the only retail destinations that will likely see a post-pandemic renaissance. If people remain reluctant to visit indoor malls, Main Street USA will likely see increased foot traffic benefitting local businesses and creating an alluring experience with personal appeal that just can’t be found online.

While there has always been a natural ebb and flow in retail, the pandemic is forcing a change – an amazing opportunity for malls to be different in what they provide beyond a place to shop. The more patrons get from their visit, the longer they’ll stay, spend and likely return. It’s no longer just about the ‘buy’, just as a sporting event is no longer about the score. It’s about the destination, the atmosphere, the food, the people, and the experience.