I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make the retail experience enjoyable, exciting, and relevant for shoppers in 2016. Doug Stephens, a retail consultant and futurist, recently asked in the Financial Post, “If a smartphone is now a store, what is the role of the store?” It raises a lot of questions, many of which can be daunting for retailers who are constantly thinking up new and innovative ways to lure customers out from behind their laptops and mobile devices…where so many are content to make purchases with the click of a mouse.

Smart developers and retailers realize that to hook consumers, you can’t just give them a shopping opportunity, you need to appeal to something that’s visceral within all of us: experiences that appeal to their senses that they can feel, touch, and taste.

The fact that traditional shopping malls aren’t cutting it anymore is old news. Across the country, we’ve all witnessed these suburban behemoths either reinvent themselves or die (there’s even a website dedicated to their demise called, what else, deadmalls.com).

And yet, a select number of these properties have been given new life through smart planning and design. Mall owners that aren’t just surviving but thriving, like General Growth Properties, Inc. (GGP), are mixing it up by giving consumers something they can’t get shopping at home. In a story just last month, their CEO talks about “continually curating the malls’ tenant mix.” In fact, half of the company’s tenant mix has changed over the past five years, adding several restaurants to their portfolio.

Creating a more stimulating shopping experience begins with making the curb-to-door experience or “gateway” to retail more enticing. At Providence Place, we are currently transforming that experience by designing more colorful signage and lighting as well as a lobby renovation, all of which will enhance the customer interaction with the retail environment.

At Hilldale, a shopping center in Madison, Wisconsin, Arrowstreet handled the redesign for the Boston-based WS Development, which bought the more than 50 year old mall after it had fallen out of favor with local shoppers. Our vision included opening up the entire north center between Metcalfe’s Market and Macy’s department store by removing the roof (see the picture above) and creating an open air environment in which visitors no longer have to breathe recycled air. In fact, one blog lists “open air renovation” as one of six ways for malls to stay relevant, insisting that “Bringing the outdoors inside has become one of the most popular methods for malls across the country to transform and refresh themselves.”

Shoppers want convenience and retailers want a captive audience. One way to achieve both is by which creating destinations where consumers can hit a dozen different stores on foot. One place this open air village center already existed was Freeport, Maine, where we were brought in to design additional campus buildings for legendary brand L.L Bean and to provide the master plan for Freeport Village Station. A two level, 550-car garage adds extra convenience in Freeport, Maine’s often bustling downtown, and yet it remains practically hidden because it’s tucked into the side of the hill. The plaza incorporates pedestrian-friendly bricked sidewalks and open-air seating.

Staying current by designing inviting and convenient destinations that offer enjoyable experiences—and not an excuse to shop online—is the only way to keep brick and mortar retail relevant.

Topics: Retail