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Inflection 2.0:

Design intervention to reboot retail and its sentiment in post-COVID era


The CoVID-19 pandemic has forced the organized retail industry to review its operating model and design resilience. With the overwhelming response we received on Inflection 1.0 – a prologue towards the future of retail mall where consumers look forward to experience beyond the traditional shopping, in this article Inflection 2.0 we explore future-proofing the retail design for a new reality. Combining a global mindset and local experience with deep sector knowledge we search for the innovative solutions that would underpin the new retail ecosystem.


(Image courtesy: Reuters)

Over the last few months, novel coronavirus (COVID-19) - the global health crisis, has got coupled to morph into an economic one. Now, while the economies seek to reopen slowly, the businesses are keenly interested in equilibrium of personal safety and economic behavior. However, it is unlikely the future retail will revert back to mirror what we previously had and the organized retail industry explores what ‘living a new normal’ looks like.

In sync, PRACTICE recalibrates the mall design framework at this inflection point towards the new retail curve. And as re-invention in retail continues and we embrace the paradigm shift, following are the catalysts that would hold key to reboot and reset to the new normal.

A. Carrying capacity

Carrying capacity would one of the big questions for both the retailers and consumers - what will be the optimal density to maintain social distancing in case of outbreaks? Taking clue from the mandates of CDC, WHO (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) carrying capacity can be determined considering a radius of 6’ safe-zone with each person; that is approx. 115 SQFT of retail area per person. This retail density can be tracked by apps, displayed at strategic entry points and can help consumers to manage their own safety. Thin crowded and smaller ques in malls would offer better consumer experience.

However, we do see risks in managing restaurants and pubs which are primarily built to promote and benefit from social interaction.

B. Prefabricated construction: Modularity in approach

A modular approach e.g., pre-fabricated construction to unitized pods can provide flexibility to readapt to future changes and to help malls migrate requirements. By modularity, we mean that the system consists of a system of parts, called modules, which can be interchanged; and with capital project investments under scrutiny, modularization increases project management efficiency and presents opportunities for trade-offs between on-site fabrication and modular fabrication.

Modularity also let design accommodate an open possibility space and an uncertain future like the LEGO bricks open up countless possibilities for complex structures and the design of new components. Prefabricated construction also demands separation by rigid standards and protocols through systematic integration – it allows resilience and better control.

C. Compartmentation

Fire norms, in the current NBC 2016, mandate complete smoke and fire compartmentation for every 2000 SQM of retail area. This capability can help isolate parts of the building even for virus spread – it would be an added advantage if isolation zones need to be quickly configured in large mixed-use developments. Another simpler way would be to plan entrances and vertical cores to isolate each usage e.g., F&B, retail, cinema etc.

D. Technology: Embrace technology and automation to leverage growth

Like every industry, machine learning and industry 4.0 are expected to reduce and enable better inventory management. Predictive consumer behavior will enable retailers to significantly reduce the shop floor inventory and that in turn would free up space, enabling social distancing and better consumer experience. Trials rooms, the big differentiator between online shopping and brick-and-mortar stores, are assumed to be less popular. Since sanitization of the products after each trial would incur an additional operational cost, retailers will try to replace the touch experience with more powerful visual experience and augmented realities.

Doors, point of payment, packing of goods all seem to get automated as well. Safety and touchless experience would supersede convenience as the key design driver.

E. Less interaction – optimum employees: Social habits to limit touchpoints

Social habits will change - consumers will be keen to avoid close interactions with multiple retailers and technology is intended to reduce the employee cost; e.g., NENDO's self-service system that dramatically reduces the amount of interaction required between both staff and customers.

Illustration courtesy: NENDO

F. Open less air-conditioned: Gravitate to open rather than confined places

The current CoVID-19 virus is not air-borne and hence air conditioning does not increase the risk of spread. However, future design would demand to handle obscure visibility and uncertainty – it would be necessary to plan to manage airborne viruses too.

  • Reduce dependency on cooling by cold air distribution through ducts and instead explore passive means by use of chiller slabs, beams etc. where recirculation/ mixing of air through different zones can be avoided.

  • Increase fresh air intake

  • Use phytoremediation/plant based air cleaning system

  • Work on optimizing humidity

  • Reduce conditioned areas, by reducing inherent heat gain in structures, better insulation, shading systems, evaporative cooling and other sustainable means

With these as we understand that creativity is needed to weather the eye of the storm, our approach focuses on questions that are critical to success; and we are keen to navigate the current challenges to unlock new opportunities for both the retailers and consumers.

Contributing authors:

Sandip Agarwal


As Director, Sandip is responsible for PRACTICE’s strategic focus and overall business operations. He manages the firm’s growth and sets out PRACTICE’s business objectives for performances across locations, professions and sectors. Sandip specializes in retail developments.

Rangan Chatterjee

Principal, Design and Quality assurance

Rangan is a principal and has led various projects ranging in from masterplan proposals to large scale mixed use development for both end users and developers. He leads the urban design vertical and manages the firm’s deliverables ensuring that it retains its reputation for industry leading outputs of highest quality.


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