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Cynthia Hirsch Ortiz Of MBH Architects On The Future Of Retail Over The Next Few Years

Authority Magazine | November 25, 2022 by Ben Ari

Engage the Five Senses: With physical retail, touch is a reason people want to come into the store. They want to feel the fabric or try the comfort of the shoes. Many retailers use scent to draw people into their spaces and it works! Your store needs to be visually appealing and stylish. If you can meet all these goals, people will not only come in, but spend money.

Aspart of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cynthia Ortiz.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Like many in the retail industry, I fell into retail! I was working as a designer and ended up finding a job as a designer at a visual merchandising manufacturing company. Once I entered the world of retail design, I knew I’d never leave it!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Talking about retail and ending up on a Zoom with Todd Bridges of Diff’rent Strokes! What a cool and down-to-earth guy he is.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

I’m working with my firm to help our clients achieve their sustainable initiatives. It is so important for people to realize how their footprints on Earth will affect future generations.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

When I think of the most influential person in my life who has helped me get to where I am today, I think of my grandmother. No, she’s not in the retail industry, but as a single mother, she helped me with my son so that I could go to school and work to give him a better life. Without her love, support, and guidance, I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am today.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve used my success to help the younger generation coming into the retail industry. It is so important to mentor and nurture students as they are figuring out where they will fit into our crazy industry.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

Many large retailers are investing in technology, more now than before the pandemic. Technology was once seen as necessary, although very costly, and many were hesitant to invest. However, things changed after the pandemic. When you look at retailers such as Target, who heavily invested in technology and BOPIS (Buy Online Pick Up In-Store), they were able to lead the way with curbside pickup. The integration of their app allows customers to shop in-store and still receive online pricing. I also think that the pandemic made people realize how important human interaction is. Many retailers are focused on the details of the customer experience, right down to the knowledge and helpfulness of the sales teams.

The supply chain crisis is another outgrowth of the pandemic. Can you share a few examples of what retailers are doing to pivot because of the bottlenecks caused by the supply chain crisis?

Many companies realized that they were in trouble by relying so heavily on overseas goods, fixtures, and products. They needed to start looking at more localized manufacturers and production so that they’re not stuck in the event of future issues. This is great news for North American companies.

How do you think we should reimagine our supply chain to prevent this from happening again in the future?

Companies need to look at diversifying their products and manufacturing partners to ensure they have more than one option to get their supplies, materials, and products.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

There will always be physical retail stores. This is evident by looking at digitally native brands who have realized that in order to continue to be successful you need to have a physical presence. Even Amazon has now opened physical stores for fashion. Retail is constantly evolving, and we will see more technology in retail spaces making same-day delivery for items bought in-store.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

I don’t believe in the term “Retail Apocalypse.” Retailers experienced a huge boom and the roll-out of stores was in the hundreds. What’s happening now is that the retailers are realizing that not all those locations were financially smart and the cost of operating some of those stores ended up being more than the profits taken in. This is leading to what we see in the news as hundreds of store closures. However, closing the underperforming stores is necessary to keep the retailers in business and profitable. Retailers need to do their homework regarding where they choose to open locations and the need for their store and/or product in that area. Pop-up shops are a great way to test areas and I believe we will see much more of that going on.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Retailers and e-commerce companies need to look at how they can be competitive and focus on customers and gaining their loyalty. Experience is key. Hiring the right in-store staff and properly training them to know what they are selling while also demonstration passion about the brand will go a long way for the consumer. E-commerce sites need to make it easy for the shopper to get what they want and in a timely manner. More than ever, people want to buy local and the retailers who do the best will be the ones placing customers first and focusing their message on why they are the better choice. We all know cheaper stores where you can get just about anything, however, we aren’t surprised when that $5 speaker breaks in less than a week, and maybe by spending a few dollars more, they would’ve had a superior product that will last much longer.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Engage the Five Senses: With physical retail, touch is a reason people want to come into the store. They want to feel the fabric or try the comfort of the shoes. Many retailers use scent to draw people into their spaces and it works! Your store needs to be visually appealing and stylish. If you can meet all these goals, people will not only come in, but spend money.

  2. Find Ways for Immediate Gratification for the Shoppers: People want what they want, and they want it now! They don’t only want to buy it and go home with it, but they want personalization. I loved buying a Love Your Melon Hat at the Tenspace pop-up in Columbus recently. There, I got to choose the beanie, the option to add a pom pom, and the label I wanted sewed on. Even though I have plenty of their beanies, I bought two more to customize while also having the proceeds go to charity.

  3. Enhance the Shopper’s Experience: How can we make it fun and enticing? Experiential design is necessary to engage the younger generations.

  4. Make It Easy: Customers don’t enjoy long lines. Look at self-checkout options, and options to order in the store and have the items delivered to your house on the same day. The easier the shopping experience, the more likely for a return customer.

  5. Invest in Technology: Adding technology can be costly to test and implement, but in the long run, the retailers will be making more and staying relevant.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I personally would love to see more retailers value family and family time. Close on holidays and allow workers to have at least one weekend a month to be home with their families. Happy employees make happy customers, which equals more profit. It’s a win-win!

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow MBH Architects on LinkedIn and Instagram to see our latest updates, and visit our website,, to see our latest work. Also, you can follow me on LinkedIn or join the Retail Design Institute to see what amazing things will be happening in our industry and how we can effect change and make our industry a better and more inclusive place.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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