REAL ESTATE

For shoppers: More experience or less friction?

In physics, friction is the inherent resistance to motion between objects. For consumers, friction points are the things that make their experiences more complicated, uncomfortable or time-consuming. One of online retail’s biggest appeals is the reduction of transactions down to a few clicks. Amazon Prime’s two-day delivery standard has shifted consumer expectations in fundamental ways. While online sales still account for a relatively small percentage of overall retail numbers, the impact of the Internet on shoppers’ expectations has been profound.

Today’s consumers expect more. They expect better. They want things faster and easier than ever before, and those expectations extend well beyond virtual space. That is why one of the defining characteristics of the next generation of great retail and mixed-use design will be a noticeable lack of friction. While memorable and engaging experiences are an increasingly pivotal piece of the retail design puzzle, those experiences cannot come at a cost. They need to be available and accessible for all. Our team of architects, planners, and designers is working hard to integrate low-friction principles into our work. They see layouts and designs through the prism of evolving consumer expectations.

Reducing friction means developing centers that don’t hinder access. Efficiency, accessibility, and ease of use are crucial. When we design, we make sure that everything is choreographed from the moment of a guest’s arrival–things like dynamic wayfinding for available parking spots, inviting main entrances and arrival points, and layouts that are intuitive to navigate and clearly signed.

Efficient parking is critical. Easy access to retail, restaurants, and entertainment is paramount. Programmed parks and public spaces are essential. Places to congregate out of the elements are non-negotiable. These ideas might seem basic, but it’s remarkable and unfortunate how often they are compromised or abandoned in service of esoteric design or program goals.

Prioritizing ease of use has resulted in a very different way of organizing retail and mixed-use. Examples include creating districts to break up large centers into more intimate environments and creating online-pickup “fast lanes” for customers who know exactly what they want and wish to leave with it as quickly as possible. It is essential to identify all guests’ needs and let all of them interact with the center on their own terms.

Reducing friction is about more than simple convenience. It’s about finding ways to make a space more comfortable, inviting, appealing, and engaging. That might be through public gathering spaces, small architectural details, or something as simple as a comfortable place to rest. It’s about offering a compelling mix of amenities and creating environments that feel good and are conducive to spending both time and money. That’s why food halls have become so popular at mixed-use developments.

We are also thinking strategically about how to reduce friction over time, employing design elements that are not just streamlined, but sustainable. That mindset means being flexible enough to recognize that a project’s boundaries will change over time. It means thinking not just like an architect, but like a master planner. The best retail layouts accommodate evolution, serving as a canvas upon which owners and operators can paint extraordinary new futures. With an eye toward a future of ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles, we are designing parking garages with greater floor to floor heights so that decks can be converted to retail or office space.

The challenging reality of an increasingly complex and competitive retail landscape is that it doesn’t take much to ruin an experience. A single delay or frustration can turn an otherwise positive trip into a negative association. That’s why less friction in the retail environment matters just as much as heightened experience.

Kevin Zak is principal and Ron Tannenbaum is project director at Dorsky + Yue International, a full-service architectural firm that plans and designs retail and mixed-use developments. They can be reached at 216.468.1850.

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