What are the top 5 retail design trends that aim to attract – and retain – the millennial customer?

Lou Allevato, Associate Principal, and Jenna Stacer-Miccile, Program Manager, for HFA’s Boston office have a few thoughts on the matter.

One of the most common conversations you hear today across media channels, professional societies, and even municipal planning discussions is about how to “deal” with the “Y” generation. This issue is not new to the retail development community.  So the question is, how do you design and build a shopping center or a retail brand that will attract and retain the millennial generation?  Here are five design trends that are gaining popularity with both retail and food concepts that grab the attention of the millennials.

1: Buzzworthy Placemaking: Consider planning entertainment and public spaces to drive retail traffic.

One morning on the radio, they announced the next public event at Boston’s City Hall Plaza – a beer garden.  The summer event series was part of the new campaign to re-envision City Hall Plaza and revitalize Boston’s public entertainment, to attract millennials to consider Boston as the place to live, work, and play.

Retail developments (both urban and suburban) have always seen the importance of public gathering places. However, we now need to take it beyond a place for an Easter Bunny or Christmas tree. Designers should plan open flex spaces for pop-up shops, summer concerts, farmer’s markets, food trucks, and other public events. By investing more time and money into these spaces, retail centers can provide a variety of seasonal vendors and customer experiences.

2: Immersive Natural Environments: Create a pleasant place to stroll, pause, rest, and SHOP!

In addition to planning for a place to gather, a truly unique shopping experience starts with the outdoor environment.  Along the path of travel, there should be multiple natural landscaped environments in which to pause, structures to provide protection from the elements, and plenty of outdoor seating and café areas for socialization.

A well-planned sidewalk experience and carefully designed natural environment create a great environment to stroll and, most importantly, to shop.  Lively retail storefronts and outdoor dining options are a must – but these are not new concepts.  However, adding the new convenience elements of Wi-Fi and charging stations will attract even the least enthusiastic shopper to pause and have a cup of coffee while charging his phone. This grants the retailer more time and opportunity to market to a captive audience.

3: #CuttingEdgeTechnology: From maintaining an effective social media presence to beacon-enhanced loyalty programs, use the newest tools available to attract this tech-savvy audience.

At this point, most of us are slaves to our mobile devices and might suffer from some addiction to social media. The millennial generation takes it to another level. They feed on the excitement of new technologies, apps, and social media. Retailers need to speak their language and find presence on mobile devices.

When it comes to shopping and eating out, millennials are looking for a convenient and personalized experience. Current beacon loyalty programs do just that. Beacons enable operators a new opportunity to communicate directly with shoppers on a personal level. For example, upon walking into a store, the operator can send out a message alerting the customer to general deals or send tailored messages directly to their phone. Beacon technology, while currently growing in popularity with retailers and food service programs, hasn’t made the jump to broader shopping center marketing programs. This technology can help both tenants and landlords by gathering data on the consumer to identify purchasing trends, which can help inform future promotions.

4: Community & Social Consciousness: Millennials will frequent brands and companies with good social ethics.

Millennials care. Community and social consciousness is a driving force in deciding where to eat and where to shop.  When choosing a brand, millennials will consider a company’s social ethics far more than generations before them. This could help explain why Starbucks, Chipotle, and Pret A Manger are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition with this generation of consumers. Companies and shopping centers should not be modest about sharing their efforts to be socially conscious.

From food offerings to architectural design, we should use visual cues to broadcast any sustainable practices featured in a given project. Natural or reclaimed finishes are great indicators that speak volumes to consumers. We are seeing these materials used in façade design and food service dining environments.

5: Unique Food and Retail Offerings: Trendy upscale restaurants, fast casual dining offerings, and boutique retail complement anchor tenants and convenience retail to bring in the younger crowd.

Millennial dining preferences are trending towards eating out more often. Restaurant tenants are adapting to accommodate a newer culinary preference for millennials – from unique flavors and spices to larger kitchens for take-out orders. This same adaptation is surfacing in newer retail and mixed-use developments. Millennials are looking for a broader mix of food service offerings and unique retail boutique shops to complement a convenient shopping experience driven by the new fast-paced “person on the go” lifestyle.

Embrace the generation and the trends

For brick-and-mortar retail to compete with the convenience of online shopping, these trends must come into play in order to attract this previously mysterious and feared audience. Given what we are seeing now, pioneering retailers and developers are already taking these trends to heart and putting them to work in creating successful and innovative retail concepts that will cross generations and bring everyone together to live, shop, dine, and play.