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OPEN: New Pathways to Human Engagement


“An open mind leaves a chance for someone to drop a worthwhile thought in it.”— Mark Twain

“As physical beings, we are literally open to the world, suffused every second with air from somewhere else…If we can embrace that, then we can begin to appreciate our and others’ identities as the emergent and fluid wonders they are.”— Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing

“We are open” is a universal phrase that can be interpreted in many ways. There is the more obvious reference of the welcoming sign in the shop window. “Openness” also implies accessibility and adaptability in our culture to creatively solve problems and make changes for the better. But it goes beyond that, to always improving and scaling the everyday communal experience that EDENS is a part of—an affirmation that speaks to the essential role of hospitality in our work and the resolve to keep our minds open to new opportunities for growth.

As we enter an exciting new year, the big question for EDENS is how we might tap into this fluid, more intuitive aspect of human engagement to create deeper connections in our places. We believe the surest pathway is where we place a higher value on open-mindedness and a willingness to approach challenges with objectivity, curiosity and discovery. So, while emotional motivations are more difficult to quantitatively measure, it’s exactly the type of thick data we are closely following so that we may continue to inspire and enrich communities we belong to.



It has been an unpredictable few years for retail, to be sure. The popular debate around digital versus brick-and-mortar has steadily shifted to how to create the best customer experience in all realms. In fact, the conversion rate of sales in physical stores last year was six times higher than online and customer acquisition costs were 50% lower; 81% of Gen Z consumers preferred in-store shopping specifically for discovering new things. According to data from Coresight Research, by Q3 2022, retailers announced 4,432 store openings in the U.S., compared with 1,954 store closings. This ratio could change in the coming year; therefore, our industry’s current challenge is two-fold: be adaptive and responsive to consumer trends while staying laser-focused on long-term engagement and audience development.

Groundbreaking research published in the Harvard Business Review shows that emotional motivation has a positive impact on consumer brands in several ways, including increased loyalty, awareness and value. When consumers have a strong emotional connection to a brand, they are often willing to pay more for the products or services that these brands offer, therefore improving overall financial performance. Customer experience around the desire to “feel a sense of belonging,” “a sense of thrill” and “a sense of freedom” are in a strong position to yield the highest return.

The science of customer emotions is not new, as it relates to spending money. We already know that most consumers point to experience as an important factor in purchasing decisions. Still, the retail landscape has changed dramatically enough in recent years that the power and value of emotional connection—the point at which customers are persuaded 24:1 by feelings over rational thought—is worth exploring.

Furthering the idea that EDENS can play a critical role in these last stages of the customer journey, a recent study published in Nature Neuroscience suggests a reciprocal link between novel and/or diverse experiences that are associated with a specific place and a positive sense of personal wellbeing.

The places in our portfolio have the power to inspire and connect us, the most memorable of which spark our imagination and distinguish the EDENS experience from everything else. For us, it means working alongside our retail partners as ‘place advocates’ who, together, create unforgettable moments that define and enrich our communities.

Jodie W. McLean CEO, EDENS


EDENS designs and curates our places to achieve multiple trips per week and several hours of dwell time. We know that when people come together, they feel a part of something bigger than themselves. At the height of the pandemic, when this kind of routine human interaction was all but missing from our daily lives, EDENS activated open, outdoor spaces—our signature design element—with moments of much-needed surprise and delight. We rolled out fun activities that encouraged interaction and sparked a little joy; we (safely) created social environments that were about much more than shopping.

Spurred by positive feedback, we kept going in 2022. We added 67,000 square feet of open and/or green area to our national portfolio and activated these community spaces with hundreds of events both large and small. We brought people together with movie nights, dance and fitness classes, live music, art installations, farmers markets, heritage and identity celebrations, harvest festivals and holiday events. We even built a roller-skating rink! We added experience making to our organization’s DNA, closely tracking emotional-connection driven growth while, at the same time, developing the listening skills needed for understanding a broader diversity of thought and perspectives.

A key benefit of building communities through experiential retail is the ability to forge lasting relationships in real life, which is an essential factor in organically developing consumer trust and advocacy. In the coming year, we will partner even more closely with retailers on signature, site-specific events that reach new visitors while continuing to sustain dedicated communities.



“We choose our friends, which allows us to surround ourselves with people who root for us, get us, and delight in our joy…Through friendship, we can self-select into some of the most affirming, safe and sacred relationships of our lives.”— Dr. Marisa G. Franco, Platonic

Just weeks into a new year, major news outlets are talking about the lasting power of close relationships. Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal refer to the Harvard Study of Adult Development that has been ongoing for more than 85 years. Since 1938, Harvard Medical School has tracked the same two groups of men, who were teenagers when the study began. What’s the biggest takeaway in a mountain of research? Personal connections are the most important factor in long-term health and happiness. “It might be something as simple as replacing screen time with ‘people time’ or livening up a stale relationship by doing something new together,” says Dr. Robert Waldinger, the study’s current director.

Well before Covid, consumers were increasingly looking to spend time where they feel known, where businesses seem to speak directly to their individual wants and needs. Expectations for more intuitive service continued to shift during the pandemic and will escalate indefinitely. A desire to connect outside of the home prevailed, despite health guidelines and restrictions. Most Americans, surveys suggested, missed and would keep shopping in stores if it weren’t for safety concerns. They felt happier when connected with their local community…but also said they didn’t know most of their neighbors; an alarming number of young people reported feeling lonely, disconnected and depressed.

Our places have always been designed and curated to be welcoming, and to provide a sense of belonging for all visitors. Ideally, we promote positive relationships through which  people share interests, learn from one another and achieve common goals. A trip to an EDENS place presents an open invitation to shop, of course, but also to explore, try new things, make new friends or more time for loved ones.

Expressing and interpreting multiple ways of openness is a brand-defining opportunity for EDENS and a mindset we will carry throughout the year and beyond. It is through genuine personal interactions and sustained engagement that we have the best chance for our people, retailers and communities to succeed together and thrive.