IRDC 2023 Recap: A Look into the Future of Retail

Nov 2, 2023

We had the opportunity to attend the International Retail Design Conference (IRDC) in Minneapolis this past week. The event was nothing short of enlightening, with some of the brightest minds in the industry sharing their insights. Here's a quick recap for those who missed out:

Victoria's Secret: A New Era:

Albert Gilkey led an intriguing discussion on the revamped store design for Victoria’s Secret. The brand is acutely aware of the importance of evolving with its audience, leading to a significant shift in their retail strategy. Victoria’s Secret has prioritized inclusivity, placing an emphasis on a broader range of body types, sizes, and backgrounds, thereby repositioning itself as a brand for everyone. This commitment to change isn't just superficial; it's also apparent in the shopping experience they offer. Their tech-infused fitting rooms are transforming the way customers shop, making the entire process more interactive and engaging. Additionally, the brand is embracing personalization like never before. Through unique offerings like embroidery and engraving, customers have the opportunity to add a distinct personal touch to their purchases.

Economic Insights from Sarah Quinlan:

Sarah Quinlan, a renowned economist, gave some invaluable insights. Many often mistake the stock market as a direct mirror of the economy, but contrary to this popular belief, the true barometers of economic health are jobs and employment rates. Presently, the job market seems buoyant, with 1.3 jobs available for every individual actively seeking employment. On the demographic front, our societal growth rate is on a downtrend. For a balanced population growth, each person ideally should be contributing to an average of 2.1 children, but the current statistics lean towards a lesser average of 1.8. Shifting our gaze to the retail industry, general merchandise is experiencing a boom. A staggering $72 billion has been invested in this sector, and a significant portion of this expenditure finds its home in retail behemoths like Target and Walmart. Interestingly, the retail dynamics have also witnessed a shift in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. While online sales soared to 22% at the pandemic's peak, that number has receded to 11%. Furthermore, brick-and-mortar stores seem to have a unique allure, with in-store purchases leading to a 10% higher spend compared to their online counterparts.

Sustainability Panel:

Sustainability is not just a buzzword, and the panelists, Christian Davies, Savannah Tarpey, Annie Bevan and Phillip Raub, made that abundantly clear. At the heart of sustainability lie the three fundamental pillars: Carbon, Chemistry, and Circularity, often referred to as the 'Three C's'. These guiding principles not only shape the way we source materials but also influence our approach to designing spaces and the entire manufacturing process. A stark testament to the pressing need for sustainable practices is the fact that a considerable 40% of all carbon emissions originate from buildings. To add to that, the supply chain is responsible for an additional 11%. This underscores the vital role of sustainable construction and design, especially when one considers that we, on average, spend a whopping 90% of our lives indoors. The emphasis on green building practices is not just an environmental imperative but a deeply personal one too.

Retail Inspiration Walking Tour:

Before departing Minneapolis, we had the opportunity to do a self-guided tour around the North Loop neighborhood.  We started our journey at Allbirds, an eco-friendly sneaker and apparel retailer.  The methodical use of materials and flexible fixture design allowed for the merchandise to be easily reset by the staff and rotated frequently.  We then stopped inside Pacifier, a kids’ gift boutique, where the products are carefully selected by its owner. Pacifier’s raw, industrial aesthetic was the perfect backdrop for its playful merchandise to sing.  Outdoor Voices was next on our tour.  The contemporary use of lighting guided us through the space where we were surprised by silo-shaped fitting rooms at the back of the store.  They even managed to make one of them completely accessible!  We ended our walking tour at MartinPatrick3.  As we navigated from one room to another, we discovered apparel mixed in with home furnishings, contemporary artwork, and even fine jewelry.  This store had a surprise around every corner – literally!  The combination of textures and lighting created beautiful vignettes displaying merchandise from casual offerings to custom, curated pieces.  This store was truly one of a kind.

In wrapping up our reflections on this year’s IRDC, it’s evident that the event was much more than a mere gathering of industry professionals - it was a wealth of knowledge and insights. It painted a clear picture of where the industry is headed, emphasizing inclusivity, sustainability, and a deep understanding of our economy and demographics. As we design the future, these insights will play a pivotal role in shaping our approach.

Chipman Design Architecture (WBE) isa people-first, family-owned retail architecture firm composed of innovators, architects, and interior designers who love collaborating, breaking boundaries, and creating spaces for tomorrow. For over forty years, we've separated ourselves with our focus on the future in regard to organizational structure, parametric design, and the ways in which we can foster community. With the corporate headquarters in Chicago, and four additional national offices, Chipman Design provides interior design, experiential design, and architectural expertise throughout North America. Today, the firm’s Principal team, led by third generation family member, and CEO, Lauren Chipman, offers innovation and professionalism through complete architectural and interior design services. Through membership in the U.S. Green Building Council, our firm’s commitment to sustainability and lowering energy consumption continues to reinforce our recognition of the critical role of architects in today’s world.