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Where will we shop?

Yesterday I bought three shirts, a couple of light bulbs, and a box of pens with a few swipes on my phone. I’m not much of a shopper. My role in this consumerist society seems to be limited to buying everyday essentials and the occasional search for my definitive wants. Retail spaces interest me inasmuch as they define and shape our contemporary lifestyles and our built environment.

Casual convenience

Shopping habits are largely predicated upon psychology and convenience. Convenience is determined by time and space. Even before the pandemic, the growth of hyperlocal corner stores has facilitated the consumer habits of our densifying communities. The need for access to more goods and services is evident in the increasingly diverse products and services one finds in these stores. Their existence is based on the amount of time it takes the consumer to get there and the space they have to sell the most essential and most needed goods.

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As our lifestyles require and allow us to purchase and consume ever more products casually, one could imagine a certain diversification in the various local stores that serve each community. Indeed, this pandemic has increased the scope of these stores to include protective wear for everyday use. Where do we draw the line between casual goods and predefined products that require a concerted effort and journey?

The growth of e-commerce is a one-way street that is most likely irreversible. The quickening acceptance of online shopping has dotted our cities with various logistic hubs to better distribute goods. How far are these hubs from evolving into local pickup points or even actual purchase points for consumer products? The major proportion of retail space is given over to display. We are already engrossed with the display capabilities of our mobile devices. A simple shift from display to distribution as the main use of space would allow for much more accessible and localized stores.

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Shared retail

Another growing trend in retail is that of informal sellers on social media. How should we translate an online marketplace into physical space? The history of retail largely began with traders setting up stalls in markets and bazaars. The continued existence and success of markets in even the most modern and mobile societies show the resilience and the fundamental function of these spaces.

The richness and communal experience of markets is not determined by the diversity of goods which pretty much falls into basic categories, but by the personal touch that individual traders put into their products and shops. Our longing for social connectivity and the growth of mass customization can only further strengthen this trend. Retail spaces can be fair grounds and open bazaars—they can be undefined spaces that are largely open to immediate personalization and a wide range products open to flexible timelines of use and lease.

The development of hyperlocal flexible stores, together with data management apps, can allow for shared use of retail spaces. These spaces can be within easy reach and allow for the development of local entrepreneurs as they focus more on their products. Shared spaces allow for smaller more sustainable footprints with more intensified use of space. They can also help develop local economies that are more robust and less reliant on capital and investment.

The psychology of shopping determines what we buy and look for. Total immersion marketing campaigns saturate us with consumer goods that seek to define who we are. This pandemic has allowed us to explore a post-capitalist reality and distance ourselves from more casual and cosmetic luxuries. Core products that truly define who we are have done much better than transient and brand driven purchases.

Shopping meccas

A parallel trend in retail spaces has been the growth of experiential destinations. Shopping malls are becoming not just places to shop but destinations to experience. This immense concentrations of urban experiences will continue to diversify and provide ever more particular experiences for the wider range of interests that will attract consumers.

Shopping malls have always built in public attractions like cinemas and sports facilities to attract more foot traffic. Experiential spaces are evident in the continuing increase of dining spaces in these malls. Food is the most basic and immediate experience, but we explore more than just the cuisine of destinations we travel to. We travel to marvel at sights, to learn and experience culture, we travel to enrich ourselves and open our minds.

Marvelous sights are either natural or manmade. Good architecture can establish the character of a place. Cultural treasures and experiences will always be the pinnacle of any society. Shopping malls acting as contemporary common grounds and cathedrals can provide not just diversity but a depth of experience that can also enrich our personal lifestyles.

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As retail spaces continue to be part of our regular routines, one could argue that they could form the basis for a community. They can deliver more curated and cohesive experiences that do not numb us with the homogeneity of mass consumerism but rather become relevant destinations that define our identities. They can be the mountain trails we climb, the sports teams we root for, the community we interact with.

Retail spaces will continue to be part of our communities. The new normal will be much like the old—it will be one of constant evolution and change. As a major part of our built environment, these spaces will continue to shape our lives whether we frequent them or not. It is for us to determine what forms we wish them to shape us into.

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