There is just us as much doom and gloom about the High Street in the US as there is in the UK, with iconic brands like Macys, Sears and JC Penney struggling.
But in a recent visit I saw a lot of interesting moves that retailers everywhere can learn from.
Our theory about Brand Cathedrals — stores where you go to worship the brand — plays well in New York. A new branch of one of our favourite stores Corso Como demonstrates this. As the anchor in a new retail development the new store, cafe and restaurant are wonderful experiences. And in smart move to drive visits, they host an exhibition of rare Salvador Dali photographs.
Visiting the current must see Warhol exhibition at the Whitney we see that he collaborated with retail in his early days, with window displays at NY department store Bonwit Teller. And back in London Selfridges have a fascinating Art initiative with real scale.
The NorthFace store on 5th has its own permanent art exhibition — a Harry Bertoia screen installed in the 50s when the building was first opened as a Bank. Both the screen and the Cloud sculpture have to be displayed, but the store treats them with a sort of distain rather than celebrate them.
Walking further up 5th we see retail embracing technology. The new Nike flagship store (The House of Innovation) is impressive — floors with a steampunk sculpture between the floors showing video and playing music. And as you walk in a team member reminds you to download their App, describing the ways it can be used in store to check stock, request shows to try and get more information. You can even scan and pay with the app
Just along the street we see Zara filling their windows with QR codes — the first store to adopt this was their branch in Westfield. Next door the Uniqlo flagship uses lots of instore POS to push their app — including $5 coupons each time you scan your barcode at checkout. Think of all that 1st party data.
(BTW Uniqlo also play the Art card with a collaboration with the neighbouring Museum Of Modern Art)
The Samsung 837 concept store in the Meatpacking District also uses QR codes — this window display promotes their slow motion camera and as well as providing a fun experience lets you save (and share) the video.
The other must see is — of course — the Amazon stores. The 4star is nice but a little unorganised. And the bookstore is a little disappointing too; its just a nice books tore with a cafe. I had to explain to my son that, once London and New York were full of great bookshops but Amazon killed most of them. Now their revinvention by Amazon is underwhelming; If you like You’ll love is interesting but searching the rest of the store is hard -as there is little logic to the layout. And the UK app doesn’t work with the store tech.
(The Google Hardware store closed right after Christmas so we missed that
Finally one of my favourite London coffees shops has gone global. Princi on Wardour Street was a faithful replica of a great Milan cafe — but the London branch was funded by Wagamama founder Alan Yau. He sold his shares to Starbucks a couple of years ago and Princi branches are now appearing around the world — within Starbucks Reserve Roasteries.
We visited the New York store in the MeatPacking district a couple of days after it opened — its huge and very impressive. And the croissants are just as good as in London.
This Starbucks Brand Cathedral is really interesting — the experience is as much the draw as the food or the coffee. And it shows how hard t is for brands to play in this space — the Lexus store right around the corner has a coffee shop but it was empty each time we passed.
What did we learn from our safari? Experience is everything — stores need a compelling answer to the key question in modern retail; What’s the reason to visit one of these store?
And once you have people in your store, how do you get them to use your app (or mobile site) to connect the real life experience with the online one? Again you need a compelling reason.
But the resulting 1st party data should make the effort worthwhile for the customer and the store.