The New York retail industry is facing a major transformation. Having been challenged by the increasing popularity of e-commerce, the decline in traditional department stores, alongside the proliferation of mobile and touchscreen devices, retailers are taking radical action to entice shoppers.
On a recent trip to New York, it was clear to me that retailers are challenging traditional models and are putting inspiration, innovation and a willingness to redefine the consumer experience at the very heart of their shopping experience.
Coined “experiential retail”, this is a complete reinvention of the in-store experience. It is creating environments that attract and excite consumers through features such as spas, cafes, theatres, art exhibitions and a host of facilities, along with personalised service, in-store kiosks, 3D experiences, pop-up shops and mobile commerce. Keen to see what this means in practice, I visited the new Reformation store on Bond Street.
Touch screens and smartphones
Reformation’s newest store in Noho is the sustainable label’s first tech-enabled shop in New York. The 3,500 sq ft white and chrome space is the brand’s largest shop yet in the United States. The shop is maintained like a showroom, so every item on the floor is actually a sample piece and there is only one item displayed at a time. The real shopping is done via touch screens on the walls - the experience is similar to using the Reformation website, yet this software only shows items that are in stock. A Reformation assistant greeted us at the door with a glass of rosé. Intimidation levels: High.
Customers are encouraged to type their name into the screen to create a dressing room. You can then add items you want to try on by scrolling and clicking, as you would on a website. I was quite overwhelmed so this was a stressful process of scanning and squinting to find things I had seen on the hangers but couldn’t recognise on the screen. If you are in a similar state of delirium and you prefer the more physical experience of scanning the rails of curated clothing, you can use your phone in order to scan the barcode.
The Reformation team works behind-the-scenes to pull your selected pieces from the stock room and places them into your dressing room’s two-way wardrobe. After checking in at the “Love Desk”, you are directed into your designated dressing room where all the pieces that you selected are waiting for you, seamlessly hung.
Each dressing room has a smaller version of the touch-screen display, so you can carry on shopping or change sizes whilst trying on clothes. Music and lighting within the dressing rooms can be customised through an aux cable in your phone to settings that include “Golden,” “Cool,” or “Sexy Time.” Once the experience is over, you can purchase clothes anywhere in the shop, similar to the Apple Store, using a card reader each sales assistant has on their phone.
As a whole, the new tech features were great. They gave me an experience I couldn’t get online and encouraged me to try on more than I would have otherwise. If you’re still not sold on the tech experience, Reformation has kept the Soho and Lower East Side locations in the original format. It certainly seemed the future of retail.
Other tech-savvy NYC stores
Story at Macy’s: In a bid to stay current and avoid extinction, the department store chain, Macy’s, has recently acquired New York City concept store, Story. Story is a cohesive storytelling retail model that takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery, and sells like a shop. Stay with me. Every four to eight weeks, the space reinvents itself – from the design of the store to the merchandise – with the goal of highlighting a new theme. Story has a heightened focus on experience, engagement and collaboration/brand partnerships – something which Macy’s is aiming to gain more of.
Samsung: Within four months of opening, the ground-breaking flagship experiential Samsung 837 store, in New York’s Meatpacking District, earned a place in Forbes world’s top three brand experiences and retail’s top honour for store design of the year. The store features multiple hands-on product zones, interactive art, virtual reality and Gear 360 displays, comfortable lounge areas as well as a recording studio capable of live streaming performances. All this is centred around a monumental three-store display comprised of 96 in-store screens. However, apart from a café on the top floor, visitors have no other opportunity to purchase anything except a cup of coffee. This 56,000 sq ft “un-store” concept encourages people to learn about the products in a hassle free environment, without the pressure of buying.
Adidas: The sportswear retailer’s fifth avenue location has everything from a juice press to a set of bleachers for customers to watch games on. It also includes a print shop, where guests can customise new purchases. A miniature track is set up on one floor where customers can take a run or get their stride analysed and another floor includes a turf field with footballs, kettle bells and other workout equipment. Shopping in the fast lane.
Lizzie Knights is a surveyor on Colliers International’s London-based retail team