Takeaways from the International Retail Design Conference

October 7, 2021

Recently, members of the ChangeUp team had the chance to go to VMSD’s annual International Retail Design Conference (IRDC), a two-day event focused on rethinking the retail experience and the best new design practices. We had the pleasure of moderating discussions on topics like designing for gen alpha and taking digitally native brands into the physical world. Yet what was most memorable for us was getting to see our partners at Inspire Brands present some of our latest work, from Buffalo Wild Wings to Sonic. It was an insightful couple of days getting to be part of conversations around what comes next for the future of retail design.

For those that couldn’t make it this year, here are some of our takeaways from the event:

1. The retail design community is as engaged and invested as ever

While businesses have always had to try and keep up with significant changes in the market and consumer behavior, this past year and a half provided an entirely new shift. Yet what was great to see at IRDC was that there is not just hope for the future of retail design, but there’s real excitement about what’s to come. We have all discovered that the tools we used to adapt to our new reality— technology, efficiency, new operating models—have opened up entirely new possibilities and profit potential for retailers. For designers, brand builders, and architects, a whole new realm of project types has come to the forefront. More importantly, the value of creative thinking has been proven.

2. Brands increasingly recognize the power of physical retail

We were invigorated by our roundtable discussion about digitally native brands moving to brick-and-mortar. Digital-first brands, from Amazon to Warby Parker to Allbirds, have all come to realize that there’s truly nothing as powerful as an in-person experience to make connections with customers.

Whether it’s being able to touch product or getting to experience human interaction through a one-on-one consultation, place is still king. Retailers can’t truly offer a holistic experience without providing customers with a physical space that brings their brand to life.

3. The integration of data and tech is crucial to succeed

Trumpeting the power of physical retail does not take anything away from the proven effectiveness of digital and big data. Most opportunities actually exist within a combination of the physical and digital. Consumer data is readily available and it’s worth the cost to collect. Hiring smart agencies that can draw actionable insights and create effective tools from that data is not only key to thrive, but crucial in creating an impactful retail experience. And how you connect with customers across all channels will determine their level of engagement and loyalty.

4. Designing for wellness is gaining much-needed momentum

While the term “biophilic design” still isn’t a mainstream topic around the water cooler, that is soon to likely change. There is groundbreaking work being done in this field, which focuses on integrating the positive effects of nature into physical experiences and spaces in order to promote wellness. Due to the pandemic, there’s been a renewed interest in physical and mental wellness, generating more excitement around biophilic design. Our overall health can in fact be substantially influenced by surrounding ourselves with nature and beautiful design, proving thoughtful design will be increasingly important regardless of industry.

If you weren’t able to attend IRDC this year, we hope to see you next time. Congratulations to the VMSD team for putting on another good show!