Top Retail Trends of Interest 2016
Barry Bourbon in Retail, Retail trends

Cadillac House. Photo: Eric Laignel.

If 2016 taught us anything, it was that change is inevitable. As we kick off a new year and reflect back upon 2016, let’s take a look at some of the top retail trends we saw take shape last year, and how some retailers are embracing everything from augmented and virtual reality to artificial intelligence, robotics and unconventional partnerships in order to draw consumers, customize offerings and stay ahead of the curve.

Ahead of the AV Curve– Are automotive brands building a new chassis for business? Automotive brands—including Mercedes, MINI and Jaguar Land Rover—are opening up experiential destinations and creative hubs as a means to connect directly with the public and ponder the future of the automotive industry. Cadillac House, launched in NYC this year, provides a lounge-like, digitally enhanced, brand experience for inquisitive urbanites. Perhaps this new platform not only enables a soft sell environment for today, but a view into the future of car-sharing and autonomous vehicles via the Cadillac brand of the future.

Unconventional Partnerships– As brands continue to look to partnerships as a means to enhance their offering, we are seeing some very unexpected and surprising collaborations. Rent the Runway at Neiman Marcus and Tesla in Nordstrom? Who’d have thunk?

In part due to social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, experiences now trump physical products for many consumers, causing physical retailers to get inventive and think outside the box. We have already been seeing some amazing things in store environments, but some retailers are going above and beyond.

And that takes us to…

Brand Extension and Reinvention– It’s the name of the game, and everyone wants to play. This year we’ve seen West Elm moving into commercial office products and hotel concepts; Urban Outfitters becoming a restauranteur; and—as I mentioned earlier—auto brands opening co-working spaces.

The Mall Finds New Relevance– Successful malls have either made, or are in the process of transitioning to, lifestyle destinations. And we must give them an A+ for effort when dreaming up ways to entice shoppers into making a day of it. Mall of America, for example, introduced a drop-in daycare center, opened up a pop-up museum honoring Prince, and is using virtual reality (VR) as a means of entertainment, as well as a means for potential shoppers to virtually tour the mall and its attractions.

Others are finding atypical tenants and diversions to bring in shoppers.

As they say, ‘time is the new currency,’ and no one wants to wait in line. Could cashwrap queues finally be sent to ‘retail hell’? With the launch of Amazon Go last month and the introduction of a multitude of ways for customers to scan and go (see Panasonic’s new smart basket), we could all be in for a bit of nirvana at last.

bt8a store. Image © Gensler

Big Data– Retailers have been gathering data and analyzing consumer statistics for years, but now we are seeing the utilization of data to reach customers where they are in the buying journey, to inform store design and location, and customize offerings and product mix based on shopper data. bt8a, an IoT (Internet of Things) retailer, offers a unique business model in that they provide data to their makers that measures customer interest and dwell time. Additionally, no one has benefitted from data analytics more than Amazon. Harnessing data gathered over numerous platforms, Amazon continues to push the boundaries of the online and physical experience.

Happy Employees = Happy Customers. With a focus on better trained, tech enabled—and yes, higher paid—sales associates, retailers are seeing shining results.

Beauty is in the Device of the Beholder– We have seen beauty brands and retailers embrace technology like no other. One can truly discover, learn, choose, try, share, and shop anywhere and anytime. From innovative and intuitive apps, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality (AR) to interactive try-and-buy classes and 3D printed custom lashes while you wait, the beauty industry is paving the way for imaginative uses of tech.

Invasion of the Bots– We are further entering the Jetsons’ lifestyle with robots, chat bots, and autonomous vehicles all lining up to pick up the slack wherever we need it. Whether it’s helping us find product, monitoring and tracking inventory, solving customer inquiries, picking and packing, or delivery, the bots have us covered.

Barry Bourbon AIA, LEED® AP, is a leader of Gensler’s global retail practice and a principal in the San Francisco office. With a constant eye on the latest tools and technologies that connect consumers and retailers, Barry inspires colleagues to stay focused on the rapidly evolving issues facing clients, and to design for the holistic experience of a brand. Never one to shy from a challenge, Barry is an expert problem solver who excels at leading multi-location, multi-disciplinary teams with the tightest schedules and budgets. Contact him at
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