Oct 4, 2021


by James Farnell

Q&A: The Future of the Retail Industry

It’s no surprise that the industries in which we design for are ever-changing. How can we anticipate these changes so that our clients benefit from timeless spaces that elevate the performance of their organizations for years to come? We recently sat down with James Farnell, our Retail Practice Leader, to discuss the future of Retail and how our client partnerships can influence the way we design spaces that create lasting, memorable connections with the brands we love.

From your perspective, what’s the future of your industry?

Simply speaking, we value our time differently now, both where and how we spend it, and consumer behavior is shifting. New expectations of retail have emerged regarding fulfillment needs versus our desire to get out and experience life with one another.

Visits to retail stores are increasingly more intentional, separating transactional fulfillment online from those that are transformative. Consumers are seeking emotional purchases within stores that offer more provocative and sensory experiences, connecting them to the brands they love.

The retail industry is responding with more agile solutions, where digital meets physical to create a more user-influenced experience. This ‘activated retail’ approach creates stronger connections and relevancy between customers and the products they choose.

How is design supporting the direction the retail industry is taking?

We’ve seen a progression over the past few years to more conscious consumerism, as customers align themselves more intentionally with brands whose purpose is grounded in good and that reflect their individual beliefs. They will increasingly seek products that have a purpose and a story, from packaging that’s sustainable to stores featuring more sensory, natural materials.

As designers, we’re focused on what architecture enables people to do and how it can help bring people together. We’re writing the narrative that drives the store experience beyond a transaction, identifying a more meaningful purpose for bricks and mortar that not only co-exists with, but supports, an online purchase. We’re finding smarter ways to use the digital tools, smart devices and platforms that are rapidly being adopted and integrating them within the retail experience.

In what ways are you serving as a strategic business partner to your clients?

Where we live, work, play and learn have been fundamentally altered and we believe the notion of hybridity will influence the retail spaces of tomorrow. Just as people are taking the opportunity to reset their lives, we’re helping retailers adjust, to right-size their store formats to better serve their future needs. To remain focused on their business objectives while helping customers get more out of their day.

The social nature of shopping is woven throughout our day, whether commuting, socializing, vacationing or working. As transportation and delivery options change and when consumers are no longer stuck behind the wheel or the desk, they will increasingly expect retail to reach out to them wherever they are. We’re therefore helping our clients navigate these changing behaviors and expectations with strategies that:

  • re-write the customer experience narrative so that it’s relevant and unique to individual needs, both now and for a more sustainable future, so they have a compelling reason to buy into the retailer’s brand;
  • re-think the new rituals of shopping to address consumers’ health and safety concerns with an increased emphasis on well-being, one that’s more integrated into architecture and store design than it ever was;
  • reset stores to host a different assortment of products and extended range of services that integrate new delivery and fulfillment platforms to give shoppers more control over how and where they access retailers’ products.

In short, we’re informed by our past yet inspired by the future, with the ultimate goal of driving our clients toward success. Elevating their performance through delivering ‘results beyond architecture’.


James Farnell

James is a designer with a passion for problem solving that came from crafting furniture and products in the workshops of England to creating more than 75 brand experiences in over 12 countries. He lives a life informed by his experiences of international cultures and the joy of living by the coast – from the East Coast of Yorkshire, to Australia, Singapore and now in California. Follow James on Twitter @farnelljames

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