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Photo by Asia Morris.

Retail Design Collaborative (RDC)’s second annual Future of Retail symposium last Thursday morning gave attendees a look into how everything from shopping online to how malls are designed will change, while fundamental human desires will not, put simply. Experts in retail, architecture, branding and more convened at the downtown Long Beach location to give TED Talk-like presentations on how new technologies are shaping the design of both online and real-world realms.

ARUP Global Director of Innovation, Foresight and Research Chris Luebkeman kicked off the symposium with a look at retail in a digital future, where convenience is king, albeit in a resource-constrained world. Everything inconvenient will change and everything that can be automated will be, Luebkeman said.

Luebkeman touched upon the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or 4IR, the fourth major industrial era since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th Century, summarized by author of “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” and founder of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab as “a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.”

What will continue to be fundamental human desires as these worlds converge, Luebkeman said, include connection and curiosity.

“This desire to be connected to someone you care about, someone you love, or you’re curious about another part of the world, is a very deep human emotion that makes us, drives us, and I believe this is always going to be with us, this idea to connect,” he said. “So as you’re looking at the future of retail you have to really understand these deep emotional, tribal, human aspects, that are what make us human.”

Global real estate trends, according to Andrew Turf, senior vice president of High Street Retail Services at CBRE, are favoring companies who create an experience for the shopper offline. One example he praised included the recently opened Gentle Monster in Los Angeles. The Seoul-based sunglasses retailer designs each of its locations like an art gallery of immersive installations, giving the visitor—albeit, one with over $200 to spend on a pair of shades— more than enough reason to stay and browse a while.

Katherine Perez Estolano, Associate Principal – Cities Leader at Arup, spoke during her segment titled “Urban Resiliency” of the glistening nationwide opportunity for developers to turn defunct, ghost town-like regional malls into more dynamically designed spaces to spend time and money. She also mentioned how these huge plots of freeway- and residentially-oriented land can also be used for housing, not failing to mention California’s current housing shortage.


Counter to creating an in-person experience, Director of Architecture and Design for Walmart David Tovey spoke of the future of online shopping, noting that being able to choose your groceries in virtual reality, as if you were walking through a store, isn’t far off. With Amazon as Walmart’s greatest competitor and the company’s edge with AmazonGo, its checkout-free shopping experience, Walmart is working on a few varying pick-up location concepts, also aiming to lessen the time a shopper would have to spend in line or physically paying a cashier.

“There’s a fast and slow paradox that affects retail tremendously,” Luebkeman said. “On one hand we all expect instant return[…]. On the other hand there’s this deep desire for slow,” he said. “Which is the browsing, which is having coffee with someone, which is having a talk, which is a walk in the woods. Research shows that just five or six minutes in nature affects you physiologically, it changes your body. It changes your mind. Literally. So this is this idea of slowing, how we can slow down. We crave this, and at the same time speed up.”

For some that believe retail is dead, as much of it can be found online, including grocery shopping through Amazon and other necessities customers used to go to purchase themselves, statistics for downtown Long Beach, at least, state otherwise. In the Downtown Long Beach Alliance (DLBA)’s 2017 Downtown Long Beach Retail Market Report released Monday, highlights included an annual retail sales increase of 73 percent from 2012 from $237 million to $410 million in 2016, over 1.6 million pedestrians throughout the downtown core during Q3 (a 33 percent increase from Q2) as well as the recent openings of Saints & Sinners, The Pie Bar and Romeo Chocolates turning North Pine Avenue into “Decadent Row.”


“Retail is not going away, but it is evolving, as it always has,” Alan Pullman, Economic Development Committee Co-Chair and Senior Principal of Studio One Eleven said in a statement. Basic human needs won’t change, especially the desire to connect communally. Giving new life to street shops and food and drink establishments that reflect the authentic culture of place. Independent shops and the entrepreneurs that create them are the architects of a neighborhood’s heart and soul.”

“[…]Everything inconvenient will change, so that is going to dramatically affect the future of downtown Long Beach,” said Retail Design Collaborative’s VP of Client Engagement David Sheldon. “Retail is not dead, it’s evolving, lesser brands are being filtered away so the brand curation, the co tenancies that happen in downtown Long Beach, it’s all a part of this evolution, what you want, where you want, when you want it, I think that these are key topics.”

Learn more about Retail Design Collaborative here

Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her @hugelandmass on Twitter and Instagram and at [email protected].