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Niketown, London

With a new second floor and large areas that have been remodelled, Nike has ensured its huge central London store sets the pace for sports retail

Essentials

Address 236 Oxford Street, London W1N
Number of floors Four (one is new)
Current outstanding feature (although there are many) The second floor shoes chandelier and the glass cube Nike iD lounge
Major growth category Basketball

Imagine a store that is the biggest of its kind in the UK. Now think of the biggest in Europe and then why not go the full furlong and extend this list of superlatives to make it the largest in the world. That is the claim made by Nike for the Niketown store at Oxford Circus. Admittedly, it is the world’s largest Niketown, rather than the biggest sports store on the planet, but given the scale of the average Niketown, this is still impressive.

And the reason for visiting this long-established central London landmark is simple. Since the end of last year it has had a completely refurbished second floor, with design from Nike and local implementation by design consultancy HMKM as well as a new women’s floor at the top of the shop. The latter adds nearly 8,000 sq ft to the store’s total selling area of more than 50,000 sq ft. Both areas have now settled in and on the afternoon of visiting, this was one of the more crowded shops on Oxford Street.

In fairness, it benefits not only from being the largest of its kind, but also from being located at the most important retail crossroads on the continent, as can be seen from the swarms of tourists emerging from the tube station outside at any given time of the year.

It also has an uncanny ability to pick up on the sporting zeitgeist and make a statement that will turn heads - more so now than ever. This store defines the term ‘destination’.

Key looks and merchandise mix

It would be easy to say that Nike is about sport and performance and therefore fashion plays little part in matters, but over the years the brand has proved itself adept at taking global trends and bringing them to sporty types. There are, naturally, those who opt to wear Nike clothing and trainers as casualwear, but the majority of shoppers last week were active sportsmen and women.

Either way, there was a wide range of options and colours in the store and the women’s floor, which also carries girls’ ranges, covered most of the non-running sports (runners, male and female, have pretty much a floor to themselves, as this is core Nike brand territory) as well as a category curiously called ‘training’, which still looked like the kind of thing you’d go for a run in.

Performance is all in this part of the market, however, and many shoppers will head for Niketown in search of a pair of running shoes. And among the reasons for this is the ‘gait analysis’ service, which is free, and a system that allows a shoe to be more or less moulded to the foot.

The options are too various to describe at length, but for sports or fashion enthusiasts this is a palace, albeit not a low-rent one.

Score 9/10

Visual merchandising

VM has always been a forte at Niketown and the new spaces show what is possible with a little imagination and a lot of white/grey training shoes, arranged in the shape of a chandelier (think of selected Kurt Geiger stores possibly) on the second floor. It is a measure of the attention to detail that each of the shoes has its own LED light and, as Nigel Barnard, Nike country manager, relates: “Lacing each of them up the night before opening and keeping them clean since has been a challenge.” Well, there are hundreds.

The chandelier, however, is just one of many VM features to be found on each floor. On the ground floor there is an event area where shoppers/sports enthusiasts have recently been able to challenge each other to timed one-on-one football matches and last week they watched Wimbledon live beneath an installation of vintage tennis rackets.

Outside the store, the windows continue to reflect the international sporting calendar in a variety of ways. All in all, this is a contender for London’s best visual merchandising.

Score 9/10

Service

In total, close to 150 staff are on hand when the store is busy and many of them are trained athletes. General manager Hannah Mercer says it is about “credibility” and that if a runner, for instance, comes in for footwear, it’s important to have someone who knows what they’re talking about. As a result, service levels are high and genial and even if you don’t buy anything, the chances are good that you’ll emerge knowing rather more about your chosen sport than when you went in.

Score 8/10

Store appeal

By any standards, this is an impressive space and functions almost entirely as a black box, with the new areas following suit. And whether it’s the basketball area (on the second floor and a big growth category, according to Barnard), complete with a basketball star mannequin with tattoos that mimic exactly those found on its living counterpart, or the many interactive elements on the women’s floor, this is about retail experience.

Shoppers entering Niketown London are presented with something akin to a sports theme park, where there is something to divert at every turn, and the store remains a ‘brand touch-down point’, to indulge in a little clichéd marketing speak.

Score 8/10

Would I buy?

Your correspondent is a keen cyclist, or at least was until an incident on the Euston Road last week resulted in a UCL hospital sojourn. As such, it remains probable that a cycle shop would be the first port of call rather than Niketown. That said, were any other sport to be considered, this shop would be close to the top of the list, in spite of some fairly aspirational pricing. If retailing is about shopper engagement, then this one crosses the line in first place.

Score 8/10

Verdict

It’s more than a decade since Niketown London first opened and in that time its interior has been reinvented several times. It continues to function as the best of its kind and for any sports-oriented shopper this is the obvious destination.

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