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Destination Retail: Why you have to make Atlanta your retail study destination

At the very core of retail we hone the art and science of customer behaviour, operational delivery and product and service curation to convert a shopper into a buyer. Yes, it is far more nuanced than that and others would say it can be far simpler, but if my 30+ years have taught me anything, unless the ultimate end delivery of a person purchasing a product isn’t achieved, and ideally that process was a commercially profitable outcome, at the end of the day it just ain’t retail.

I have been everywhere it seems the last few months and immersing myself in the trends, the topics and the action happening at Ground Zero.

There are a few trends that I will cover over the coming months that directly attribute to one of the biggest challenges retail is having in our part of the hemisphere. How to get retail growth. Not how to reduce costs, do less with more or rebuild following the pandemic storm. It’s how do we get more customers crossing the lease-line.

After countless lockdowns, there has been a return to seeking connection in all shapes and forms. Including shopping. In order to stay relevant this means bricks and mortar retail need to do something digital doesn’t. It needs to transform into places of community, innovation and individuality. A place where experiences are enriched and create a holistic memorable experience. Dialling up the volume and maximising the connection with shoppers senses and emotions.

Atlanta was one of the places I visited that has delivered this in spades. They have created an abundance of awe-inspiring spaces and places which welcome people again and again for reasons other than just to buy stuff. They are destinations and stores that have become playful with their layouts, have provided areas where ideas can pop-up without the need for expensive campaign-specific changes and they have incorporated technology to make the experience interesting, engaging and seamless.

Let me take you on a journey of a few spots in Atlanta and how they have encapsulated these opportunities.

What do you need to know about Atlanta? It’s actually quite the exciting metropolis:

  • Atlanta is the birthplace of Coke – visit the World of Coca-Cola where there is an all you can drink sensorial experience from flavours from all over the globe (trust me you’ll get over it pretty quick)

  • This is the home of Martin Luther King Jnr and the epicentre of Civil Rights – visit the National Civil Rights Museum

  • It is the home of the World’s busiest airport – Hartsfield Jackson 5,400 flights per day and only 1,000 are international flights

  • This is the Capital of Hip Hop – trust practically ever Uber you hop in will make you well aware of that fact

  • It’s a sports powerhouse – make sure you check out the Truist Park precinct which is home to the Atlanta Braves baseball team. This is like a Disneyland park for baseball and sporting fans.

  • The Atlanta Belt-line is one of the most incredible and comprehensive revitalisation efforts to bring together and connect the urban centre through a 22-mile railroad corridor that connects public parks, multi-use trails, transit, retail, dining and leisure. The outcome is a connected Atlanta and improved quality of life.

I immediately fell in love with this place as it is so incredibly considered. Atlanta is one of the fastest growing cities in the US and I would move there tomorrow except it is full of Americans and Trump is still lurking in the shadows.

Precinct Lifestyle

I was in mid Atlanta for the majority of my trip but I had to do some different business about 30 mins outside of Downtown Atlanta and stayed in Alpharetta.

  • Alpharetta is well known for being one of the richest cities in Georgia.

  • This city is a great spot for those who prefer a bustling area with both traditional southern charm and proximity to the big city

  • Alpharetta is now Georgia's 12th most populous city, boasts some of the best schools in the United States

  • Known far and wide as the Technology City of the South due to the large number of tech-focused companies located there.

I had a day to kill so wandered across to the local retail, literally just across the road. On my journey I stopped and refuelled for a bad coffee at Starbucks and had to find a crossing so I didn’t jaywalk as I had to cross a 8 lane carriageway. And lucky I did, because I spotted this.

Now forgive my terrible commentary as I was just using a guide voice for the team to show them what was happening.

According to Chick-fil-A, the robots have reached up to 15 miles per hour. The robots are also insulated, keeping food at the ideal temperature and keeping guests updated on the journey while on the move. “It’s always going to be about well-prepared, quality food,” CEO Featherston said. “But where and how you consume your Chick-fil-A meal based on your daily needs is constantly changing. We want to learn how to extend our hospitality from our restaurants to meet you where you are.”

But I wondered, why here? What need is being fulfilled? And then I walked around the corner and stumbled into a cross between The Truman Show & Disneyland for retail. Welcome to Avalon, Alpharetta.

  • Avalon is a new experience in the timeless art of living well.

  • In the heart of Alpharetta, this sustainably designed, 86-acre community features more than 570,000 square feet of retail, a 12-screen all premium theatre, conference centre and full-service hotel,

  • Commercial office space, single-family residences and luxury rental homes

  • Avalon is Georgia’s first Gigabit community, a futureproof fiberhood with internet connection speeds 100x faster than what’s currently available.

Avalon infuses resort-level hospitality throughout a walkable, seamlessly connected community of shopping, dining, entertainment, living and working. It’s more than just another place to go, it’s a place to be — a hub of activity that delivers the luxury of the modern South. Holy crap. My dreams had come true.

Again apologies on my voice guide track and excitement. This is a destination where everything is orchestrated to make you feel good in a wholesome, happening community. There are speakers throughout the foot paths and the music changes depending on the time of day. There are spaces where the community come together and work, play and rest. There is a centre concierge where you drop off your dry-cleaning and it gets returned to you via the golf-cart which might just be being followed by the Chick-fil-A robot.

There was so much to explore it did take me the whole day and trust me every retailer, café, service was localised, eco-friendly, serviced orientated and I didn’t meet a person who wasn’t sweet and just like Reece Witherspoon in the flesh.

Two key standout retailers delivering an experience built on strong values


Orvis is an American family-owned retail and mail-order business specialising in fly fishing, hunting and sporting goods. When I approached the store, it had an authentic and inviting feel about it. Opening the heavy door and being unexpectedly greeted by a bear, once you entered you could see a great wonderful selection of clothing, bags, gear, equipment and themed household products focused on the dog, but what kept you was the warmth, the storytelling, the customer service and the passion.

  • In 1856, Charles F. Orvis founded the Orvis Company in Manchester, Vermont, offering superior fly-fishing equipment and priding himself on customer satisfaction and service.

  • Today, Orvis is the trusted source of discovery and adventure in the natural world.

  • For more than a century and a half, we have loved the wild, explored it, and protected it. At our core, we are a fly-fishing and wingshooting brand, inspired by nature, driven by curiosity, and fulfilled by adventure.

  • As the world leader in fly fishing, we are also proud to share our offerings in a wide assortment of men’s and women’s sportswear, fine gifts and home furnishings, luggage, and travel accessories.

  • We are an industry leader in dog beds and innovative dog products. Our culture of “We Love Dogs” inspires us to be a central source of education and information for all dog lovers.

  • We also offer fine shotguns, gear, and technical apparel for wingshooting and sporting clays. Orvis sporting services include fishing and shooting schools, an international sporting and eco-travel agency, the Orvis-Endorsed network of lodges, outfitters, and guides, and Orvis-Endorsed hunting dog trainers and breeders.

  • Each product and the services we offer is rooted in our heritage, inspired by our love of the wild, and backed by superior customer service and a 100% guarantee of satisfaction.

Brand Promise

We live to develop and share our equipment, apparel, and expertise to outfit deeper connections and authentic experiences in the outdoors for a more inspired life.

The Orvis Commitment

In the words of Orvis CEO Perk Perkins, “If we are to benefit from the use of our natural resources, we must be willing to act to preserve them.” 

  • Orvis donates 5% of pre-tax profits every year to protecting nature, supporting communities, and advancing canine health and well-being.

  • With a unique matching grant program, Orvis and its customers have raised and donated more than $20 million to protecting nature over the past 25 years.

Orvis is more than just a pretty face and an immersive experience. It is a retailer built on values, clarity of brand promise and a shared vision for its community.

Altar’d State

I stumbled onto this store by sheer curiosity and a need to buy my daughter some jewellery. As I entered the store it seemed interesting, a bit like an upmarket Glassons with fashion and lifestyle accessories for girls and young woman. What I uncovered, was not what I originally had thought. There was something more wholesome in this exceptionally delivered retailer experience.

Altar’d State is a faith-based business with a desire to alter the retail industry.

  • We provide a sanctuary for our guests: a welcoming environment, warm associates, and thoughtfully curated products.

  • Our clothing stands out in your closet and reflects your personal style – here for your every day and every milestone (like pledging and getting your purity ring to getting married – seemingly young)

  • You, as our guest, shape our product mix and store experience. This collaboration between our guests and associates has led Altar’d State to expand into other markets and new brands

I am Catholic so faith is nothing offensive to me, but what I loved is that this was an elegant execution which was on on the trend while delivering faith led values which was accessible to anyone and everyone. Not pushing it down your throat.

This business has a lot of community and faith based initiatives weaved into their business:

“Stand Out. For Good” is our primary mission, we are founded upon giving back. It’s not just what we do – it’s who we are. Locally and globally, we have partnered with over 4,000 non-profits that provide food, clothing, resources, education, and love to children in need.

Mission Monday connects us to our communities. When you shop with us on Mondays, 10% of net proceeds in all stores and online go directly to non-profits across the country. Each store chooses a non-profit from their community based on a seasonal theme, such as Education or Children’s Health. Associates are encouraged to get involved with their Mission Monday non-profits through volunteering – every employee is given 4 hours of paid volunteer time each month. Thank you for joining our movement to Stand Out. For Good

Ponce City Markets

This was another incredible destination which was a combination of retailtainment x hyperphysical providing many reasons for shoppers to come explore, shop, eat, socialise, be entertained or share in community.

Ponce City Market is a mixed-use development located in a former Sears catalogue facility in Atlanta, originally their retail store, warehouse and regional office.The 2.1-million-square-foot (200,000 m2) building, one of the largest by volume in the Southeast United States. The building's lot covers 16 acres (65,000 m2).

The Redevelopment of this precinct brings to life national and local retail anchors, restaurants, a food hall, boutiques and offices, and residential units.

The retail mix is unique with key destinations including Glossier, Allbirds, Nike, Anthropologie, Casper, Madewell, Sugarboo & Co, West Elm to name a few. Excellent store executions, not just the run of the mill boxes. Likewise the restaurants in the food hall step it up to provide authentic, memorable and unique experiences.

THE ROOF is a significant rooftop destination which includes Skyline Park, 9 Mile Station (food and drink), 12 Cocktail Bar and Rooftop Terrace event space. It provides a unique space to meet for drinks, hang out with the kids, be a kid yourself or simply sit and enjoy the Atlanta skyline.


Atlanta is a city that is happening and it is not only embracing trends, it is driving and creating them. The developments are well considered for the community delivering enriched retail spaces that create a sensorial and holistically memorable store experience intertwined with community, socialising purpose and vision.

Experience and opportunities for connection are key differentiators for retailers. In Australia and NZ:

  • 32% of customers say they’re likely to engage with in-store experiential moments

  • 58% of consumers say excellent past customer service influenced their decisions to buy

  • 47% of customers were more likely to purchase from a brand due to its local presence

  • 33% say a sense of community is a top motivator to visit local shops.

Atlanta is thriving with businesses and brands that evoke emotions and engagement with their customers not only driving engagement but an interest which sees them returning again and again.


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