Amor de Barrio — San José, Costa Rica
Amor de Barrio — San José, Costa Rica

What’s Missing from the Latin American Retail Experience?

Retail-driven developers will always be challenged by one question: "What makes my customers tick?"

As a Latina who lived in the US for 27 years, and a designer working on retail and entertainment projects for 22, I returned to Latin America with a different set of questions: how are Latin American consumers different from their US counterparts? Should architects and designers in Latin America be looking at retail-driven developments in the US as models? Or should they be designing for a different audience with a different set of behaviors?

As I walk into overflowing malls and mixed-use hybrids in countries like Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia, and Chile — I wonder if there is a measurable factor or secret formula to designing enjoyable environments specifically for these Latin American customers.

In other words: what makes us tick?

Although Latin Americans are extremely connected to a global economy, I have found through my own experience that yes, Latin Americans do shop, consume, experience, and learn a bit differently than American consumers. We shop in groups, trust the opinions of our immediate social circles more than those coming from a stranger online, and it seems that running to write an online review after a poor experience is not a priority. Trust, a sense of safety, and family values are very much ingrained in our culture.

Perhaps the amenities that we believe are key to the creation of a successful 24/7 retail destination in North America are not the same ones we’d expect to see in Latin America, where the culture and values differ. While research shows that e-commerce is fast growing in the region, it is still is very low compared to the rest of the world. People in these countries are eager to be out and about, enjoying life, and always looking for top-quality experiences.

These may be subjective observations, but Gensler’s Experience Index for retail provides us designers with some quantifiable insight into what makes people leave the comfort of their homes and go on a shopping quest. Most of that research is US-based, but it indicates that there is a 50% chance that people visit retail destinations with more than just shopping in mind.

Now that the tools used for this initial research are at our disposal, the next step is to use the same approach to index the experiences of our clients and their users in Latin America. This is exactly what we are currently researching for another Experience Index report, due out in 2020, focused specifically on mixed-used experiences in Latin America.

The research aims to provide valuable insights from our tour of successful retail destinations in Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Chile — with the ultimate goal of translating the highest rated amenities and experiences into new environmental designs tailored to the local culture.

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Beatriz De Paz
Bea has been a key player and a design leader in complex and outstanding interdisciplinary projects, such as the Shanghai Tower and the Royal Ratchdamri Tower in Bangkok, Thailand. Contact her at .