Retail Case-study: Nike’s House of Innovation
LIFTING THE VEIL ON A NEW RETAIL CONCEPT
In our last piece, we outlined a range of shifts and pulls within the retail landscape. This broad-brush portrayal of insights prompted many questions, and inspired us to delve deeper, to understand how some of these bold and leading-edge retail spaces are actually being experienced ‘live’.
For this piece, we’re zooming in on Nike’s new retail concept ‘House of Innovation’ to suss out if it’s delivering on its promises to customers, and achieving its goals as a pioneer in the retail scene.
Does this new store concept live up to the brand’s innovative nature? And does it raise the stakes in this Brave New Retail World?
The first Nike House of Innovation 001 opened in Shanghai, followed promptly by the New York flagship 000, and with a third on its way in Paris. Across each location, Nike presents cross-category, consumer-focused spaces and experiences, and promises city-exclusive items specific to each city.
We’ve taken a close look at the 6-story retail mecca in New York — with the intention to be purposefully critical, looking into what is most successful, and where there might be further opportunities. This time we also had an ‘on the ground’ team of experience and spatial strategists, visiting the store on different days, to help us uncover meaningful insights.
> If you only read this
New York’s HOI 000 is a fun and engaging retail experience that blows others out of the water in how it puts customers and their needs first. But the best bits were by far those that offered customized, participatory experiences, not those that sold clothes or shoes.
Nike has innumerable other stores that do a great job of selling, but the HOI was meant to peel back hidden layers, prioritise purpose, and build community linked to its immediate locality. To take the ambitious HOI concept to the next level, we feel Nike could be even braver and show less product, in order to focus on the immersive, creative elements that make this store truly special. Moving the focus away from ‘direct’ in-store buying and shifting the balance more towards openly content-rich experiential would be a risk, but one that would certainly smash the bar for the road ahead.
Despite our critical points below, Nike has certainly achieved another retail victory — we’d just like to see them be bolder and take it even further. Just do it, Nike!
“As tough as these times may be for brick-and-mortar-sales — to Nike, it’s nothing but a challenge.” (SHOPLIFTER! New Retail Architecture and Brand Spaces, p.220)
In the preface to Gestalten’s recently published book ‘Shoplifter!’, which explores the most innovative store concepts, Alison Embrey Medina portrays ‘purpose’ as the golden egg of retail:
“In an age of price-comparing, internet-searching, Amazon-delivering ease, the retail world needs to reclaim a bit of controversial, jaw-dropping, heart-pounding purpose. In a climate where consumers can find anything they want in real time on the internet, it is more important than ever for a brand to stand for something. Purpose is everything…”
This new mark in the retail landscape is undoubtedly the ultimate opportunity for Nike to get ahead by being heavily purpose-led, rather than being just another shop stacked with stuff.
From the launch of their first flagship store 25 years ago, Nike have set out to push the boundaries of how we experience shopping. They have consistently experimented and trialled the next phases of retail: At Nike, we focused on what consumers were telling us and stayed true to our belief of serving them completely…We believed we could reinvent retail by making it experiential, by elevating the power of our brand and by bringing storytelling to shopping in a way that other retailers hadn’t done. (Heidi O’Neill, President of Nike Retail)
This desire to put experience at the heart of the customer journey is evident in the creation of the HOI 000, but this time around Nike have pushed further into the wilds of the retail jungle. This store brings together many of the traits we’ve mentioned in previous articles — most notably the museumification of retail — although Nike would probably argue they’re ahead of any trends!
Brands today can be reluctant to take a strong position, yet Nike succeeds in advancing with intention: to innovate by elevating human potential, and inspiring communities around the world to redefine the limits of what we can achieve. From the outset it’s clear that this purpose is a core tenet of the HOI remit, deeply seated in the ambitious retail brief: It’s where we’re going to give the deepest dive into our product innovation and the stories behind the designs and we’ll be focused on large, global sports moments and how they come to life in New York City. (Sean Madden, senior director of product for Nike Direct)
Lifting the Innovation Curtain
So, does HOI 000 deliver?
On many levels, yes. It’s kinetic, exploratory, and engaging, and prioritises individuality and personalization above all else. It’s an unequivocally cool space, with lots of Nike products, which of course draws a crowd. And the buying process uses technology to create pretty seamless, high-speed, hassle-free ways to purchase through an app.
That said, we felt the focus was still too heavily on the act of purchasing, and not enough on the innovation. Nike can sell shoes and hoodies in any of its stores, but what elevates the HOI are the floors with minimal product sales and maximum atmosphere, and we feel there are opportunities to give visitors more here.
Let’s take a closer look…
Fun HOI 000 Facts
Is there more than meets the eye?
Fun store fact #1: The ceiling of this entry is angled at precisely 23.5° — the exact angle of the Swoosh trademark.
Fun store fact #2: The staircase is made entirely out of recycled Nike shoes.
Fun store fact #3: The dressing rooms on L05 are designed to showcase the career of a particular athlete, and rotate every couple of months.”
Fun store fact #4: The feature satellite installation that hangs in the center of the store showcases the NYC store’s status as the flagship HOI, broadcasting historic sports moments that link to New York City.
Of the above cool facts only #1 was on display for curious customers — #2–4 we found out by talking to an (admittedly very knowledgeable) Nike ‘expert’. So much thought and consideration has gone into details of the design — it’s a shame not more of that great content is shared more visibly.
Innovation for Athletes*
Who is this for?
Nike’s mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world, which is clearly stated on the manifesto wall on the ground floor. But if you don’t know how Nike defines an athlete, you could be confused, because you won’t see many people in workout gear, looking for the right shoe to shave .5 seconds off their run time!
In the Nike glossary, an athlete is ‘anybody with a body’. Which means all of us. That’s such a strong and inspiring message, we wish it was made more explicit. YOU ARE AN ATHLETE AND THIS STORE IS FOR YOU.
Beyond a wall quote perhaps there could also be more in the space to actually bring this message to life, and actively champion the athlete in us all…
What is the sensorial experience? How does the amount of ‘stuff’ and variety of activities impact the senses?
The unique elements of the store were mostly on the top and bottom floors, but with mixed success.
The Expert Studio offers 1:1 sessions to help choose gear that meets individual needs or customize premium Nike apparel. It does come at a much higher price point, but being able to see tailors in action in a modern atelier and check out bespoke fitting rooms (for free) had experience points of its own.
The Speed Shop on L-01 provided respite and breathing room from the intensity of the more product-heavy (and much busier) middle floors, and a super convenient way for New Yorkers who just need to replace their tried and trues. But it was underwhelming as a community space which promised a unique New York centric experience. In terms of the product on display, it felt more like ‘Nike Running forward, with a bit of New York thrown in.’
Innovation in simplicity
So what about product? How does it live within the experience?
On L04 is the Sneaker Lab, which displays the largest collection of seasonally current Nike footwear anywhere. The white space ‘felt heavenly and ethereal’ — a real homage to the shoes.
Unfortunately, its shopping appeal outweighed any feelings of reverence, and hence it was the busiest and noisiest floor. To conjure ‘contemplative museum’ over ‘crowded marketplace’, it might have been more daring to showcase the shoes as one views precious objects, and offer buying only online or direct through the app. Using the product (in this case shoes) as a symbol, rather than purely as a commodity to be purchased, would elevate a simple display to another level.
The mass appeal of the Sneaker Lab did however make us reflect on how much, beyond the enticing world of experiential and lifestyle type offerings, connecting to a brand is still inextricably linked to the love we have for the products they create.
How does Innovation feature in the space? What do audiences take away from it?
There were installations and moments throughout the store that alluded to sneak peeks into the process of making. On L04, for example, a series of screens on tripods and tables with laptops featuring calculations and drawings hinted at some of the stories behind the creation of the LeBron shoe, but on closer inspection they were more eye candy, and less about the science behind. We can see the intention here was to share snippets of the process — but we felt more could have been revealed. There wasn’t enough in-depth storytelling to walk away having learnt something around what Innovation means for Nike. This was a shame as we’d all love to see some super nerdy content about what actually makes Nike shoes what they are, in easily-digestible bits.
Perhaps one thing for the future would be to further consider the layers of content that can be woven into a space — informing visitors to whichever level they feel appropriate and manageable on that day. This could also trigger more repeat visits as, more like a museum, you might learn a bit more each time.
One truly unique element of this store is the Nike by You maker space that sits within the Nike Arena on L01. It is absolutely brilliant that people can, essentially, design their own shoes. It is a 2-day commitment (not obvious at first glance), but we liked the idea of having to return to the store and invest more time, something more likely to appeal to locals. We didn’t get a chance to join a session, but this would be a great opportunity to educate participants on what really goes into making those great-looking kicks.
Nike were also looking to innovate through the use of technology via the Nike app. An attempt at enhancing the actual buying experience was the ‘scan an outfit’ option in the app. In theory, a great idea, but the mannequins were either dressed in outfits only a Nike mannequin could wear, or in looks so high fashion it was really difficult to decipher what the individual elements were and how you could put them into a look for yourself. In this case, Nike would have done better to be a bit more practical in order to help people shop easily (for ‘Nike Women Yoga Favorites’ for example) and leave the high fashion to the L05 Expert Studio.
Innovation in Cohesion
Do the multitude of services and different zones co-exist in a balanced way? Does the environment become overwhelming, and disconnected within itself?
Despite being sprawled over 6 floors, and designed to offer varied services within compartmentalised environments, HOI impressively does feel like one cohesive and connected place. They have succeeded in achieving one of the most challenging tasks in design terms — bringing holistic cohesion to an environment hosting many different visual styles, and functionalities.
Nike may well have achieved a retail design ‘tour de force’: presenting itself consistently across all 6 floors on this prime 5th Avenue corner. An impactful thread in the space seems to be the continuous presence of powerful and dynamic contrasts, manifested in many different ways — from colour (striking balances of black and white) to clashes in tactility (from super slick digital, to rough and rugged textures). The energy building from these contrasts align perfectly with the sports giant’s defining characteristics of being daring and diverse. (We dare to design the future of sport — Nike)
Based on our experience of the HOI, it is clear that it is designed and curated to spread Nike’s mission: using insights from the world’s best athletes to create beautiful products — useful for all. Nike hasn’t taken any shortcuts here — every element is considered — but we feel it could be could be communicated to end users with more depth, and more explicitly. According to the brand’s mission statement, Nike is a place where everyone is an explorer. A brand on a mission to “share knowledge of the body in motion”. There is huge opportunity in this last sentence for Nike to spread more of what they know. Take big risks by peeling back the layers of product and presenting visitors with statements and experiences of undiluted purpose.
“To make big leaps, we take big risks. Incremental change won’t get us to where we want to go fast enough.” — Nike