Opinion

NYC - Explorer


By Karl McKeever | 18.12.18

The latest in our Explorer series is all about experiential retail. This month’s festive sleigh tour stop-off brings us to New York – a city where real experiences aren’t hard to come by, to explore retailers switching their focus from simply “selling stuff” to getting customers to buy into the brand in innovative, immersive and, at times, playful new ways.

Tiffany & Co.
727 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10022, USA

The Tiffany brand is everywhere this year. Having endured disappointing performance recently, the brand is on a mission to tempt more aspiring younger millennial customers. And extend its reach they have, with a series of pop-up experiences and greater visibility within department stores and airport duty free. The eagle-eyed among you will also have seen their TV spots on UK screens in the lead up to Christmas – all part of a big international push to drive sales. The one negative effect of the brand’s ‘old money’ appeal has been a retail experience that, though premium, has at times felt somewhat stuffy, staged and out of step with the evolving demands of today’s shoppers. For so long the epicentre of the brand, the Tiffany experience is being brought to life in new ways within its flagship Fifth Avenue store.

It may have extended its range too (perfume, coffee sets, accessories, stationery etc.,) but jewellery is still the mainstay of the business – its beating heart. Instore, the brand has removed many of its traditional jewellery counters. In its place, a glass workshop has been introduced. Creating a true spectacle instore, the space showcases the craft of jewellery. Once hidden from view (to maintain not only a sense of mystic but also to ‘protect’ its elite customers from the blue-collar craftsmen) the art of making fine jewellery is now celebrated, with jewellers making, cleaning and resizing product in clear view of customers.

 

Nike ‘House of Innovation 000’
650 Fifth Avenue, West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019, USA

Opened in October, the latest showpiece store from Nike stands boldly and proudly on the corner of West 52nd Street. The store slices its way through the traditional architecture of neighbouring buildings that surround it. With its ‘bubbled’ glass façade, this is a modern, minimalist cathedral-like monolith to the global brand giant. It’s an awe-inspiring and innovative experience on many levels – six to be exact. As a result, this store isn’t short on space. Nike has used this to hero every single product – giving each the sort of space you would normal expect to be occupied by three in many other stores.

But it’s the attention-grabbing digital installations that, literally, bring this store to life. The choreography of digital content across the integrated screens is mesmerising. Mannequins are given life – ‘running’ over screens that feature changing terrain – adding drama and excitement. The Nike app is also embedded into the store experience, allowing customers to check sizes and available colours by scanning mannequins and get items sent directly to changing rooms, or to the more premium high-end fitting lounge situated on the top floor. And, of course, its famed product customisation is ever-present too. Part store, part-museum, it represents a major investment (and commitment) to physical retail.

 

Google Hardware Store
131 Greene St, New York, NY 10012, USA

It feels like ‘dad’s shed’. It looks like a B&Q. It is, in fact, Google’s new pop-up store in SoHo. Its home is the perfect location for technology hungry hipsters. Open September-January, it’s also been launched at the perfect time to capture the imagination of those seeking to gift gadgets and gizmos to loved ones this Christmas.

Cleverly themed around a ‘hardware’ store, customers can play with the brand’s latest ‘tools’ for work, life and home. From its Pixel 3 phone and Google Home Hub to Pixel Slate and Nest products, with customers able to collect how-to-guides from the around the store. There may be no hammers but there are pastel paint cans displayed on a long wall, all featuring playful colour names such as Screensaver White and LED green. There’s also an interactive treehouse where you can use Google devices to make the lights twinkle, change colours, play music and raise the blinds. Yes, in many respects this is basically an Apple store – though one that is more modest, with has a softer more inventive edge.

 

Bloomingdale’s
1000 Third Avenue 59th Street and, Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10022, USA

Christmas is typically the time of year when department stores come alive: the season is theirs to own. This year’s Bloomingdale’s festive window is inspired by The Grinch and is very much focused on experience, allowing customers to take a selfie which then appears inside the window next to the Grinch’s head. There’s even a live karaoke to sing along to the Christmas carols (yes, I did have a go).

In broader terms, Bloomingdale’s is clearly focusing more time and energy in creating experiential moments. The Ralph Lauren Kids department is a prime example – featuring a mini ice rink installation instore.

To be clear it, like so many department stores, needed to change. What used to be a space to cram in product, brands and promotions has been replaced by more experiential ‘hooks’. There are signs that the retailer gets the need to invest in this area , outside of just Christmas windows, if it is to continue engaging customers and remain relevant in 2019, and beyond.

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