Last week I attended an interesting event hosted by the Seattle chapter of The Retail Design Institute.  The event was about emerging design trends in retail.  Alison Embry Medina, Executive Editor of DDI Magazine, lead the discussion that was held at the beautiful NBBJ headquarters here in Seattle.

The presentation was fantastic.  Alison was very informative, educational and fun.  Some of the trends she illustrated for us were: Raw, Collage, Sleek & Sculpture, Geometry Revisited, Nesting and Filigree & Lace.  Each trend was very unique and fresh.    Raw, natural or reclaimed materials, not only speaks to the “green” movement but also allows for the history of a space to come through.  Many of the Raw spaces were old pubs, clubs or even laundromats.  Geometry Revisited is the use of shapes to create an experience or focal point, for instance:

retail, design, trends

While the new trends are exciting, and the reason we were all there to meet and listen to Alison, the biggest take away for me was how cool Wal-Mart is getting.

No.  That was not a typo.

Now to clarify; compared to a Barney’s Holiday window Wal-Mart is still on the conservative side of the spectrum.  However, Wal-Mart is really taking a very interesting approach to the store experience.  The most notable and commented on was the liberal use of skylights in the space.  Each store seemed to be flooded with natural light.  Of course the correlation between sunlight and sales is well documented.  The influence of natural light on the mood of the buyer is so positive even Seattle has outdoor shopping.

Wal-Mart is also creating small vignettes in the store.  These areas, taken from lucrative rack space, demonstrate creative ways to use Wal-Mart product.  I am sure this clever strategy has increased add-on sales considerably.  While not new to the industry I feel this is a great step forward for Wal-Mart.

“Honey, I went in for pillows but the bedding looked so nice, and the curtains matched so well, I had to buy it all!”

These vignettes are also being developed to be neighborhood specific.  A store that sells a great deal of wine might have a slick wine shop inviting customers in.

Another way that Wal-Mart is making a more inviting space is by simply curving end racks.  A simple curve out towards the customer creates a unique space that is unique and inviting.

It is no secret that retail has been hit very hard.  Many of my clients, colleagues and friends have had a very difficult 18 months.  While I would never wish the past year and a half on anyone, and hope we never see the likes of them again, these hardships have had a very interesting effect.  Creativity and courage to create retail spaces that truly transport us has increased.  Retailers are truly thinking outside the box to get us into their stores and it is very exciting to watch.