Experiential retail comes in many flavors such as food and services and smart mirrors. You find immersive & less-friction in-store customer experiences in these flagships, iconic, and concept stores. As New York City opens up after the pandemic crisis, you see more innovations based on the concepts of In-Store Optimization (ISO).
If you are in New York City, visit the following shopping centers, brand flagships, and cool retail-tech concept stores to see the future of physical retail.
What is a Concept Store?
The Concept Store is where retailers and brands test new ideas such as store layout and fixtures and design, launch specialty products for a targeted audience, introduce lifestyle services such as on-site tailors and restaurants, and deploy tracking technologies and interactive elements such as augmented reality studios.
Experiential Retail refers to elements that enhance the In-Store Customer Experience, such as private client retailing, cafes and live music, and virtual reality games.
Most retailers consider a single pilot store as a concept store. The more innovative retailers embed experimental attitude into their flagship stores.
5 Must-See Examples & Case Studies of Experiential Retail (2020):
- Nordstrom Flagship on 57th & Broadway
- Showfields on 11 Bond Street Soho
- Hudson Yards Mall on 11Avenue & 30th
- Starbucks Reserve on 10 Waverly Place
- Nike’s Flagship on 650 Fifth Avenue
Retail-Tech Trends in 2020
2020 welcomes a new decade in retail with a focus on technology, stores, and ecosystems:
- AI + 5G = Retail-Tech Store: AI stands for a variety of advanced technologies. With 5G, data can move with ease back and forth between corporate servers and the local stores. The data highway ignites creativity. and growth.
- Physical Stores are Hubs: Physical stores evolved into fulfillment centers, showrooms to Omnichannel shopping, and high-touch market and product research centers.
- Retail-Tech is an Ecosystem: As strong brands get stronger, and big stores get bigger, the relationships between retailers, brands, and malls are being rebalanced. In the next decade, retail will evolve into a holistic distribution and communication ecosystem.
You will see these powerful retail-tech trends in the experiential retail & concept stores tour in New York City:
Ronny’s Pro Tip: In 2020, the Retail-Tech trends to watch out for include innovation and expansion of unstaffed stores, the entry of Chinese brands, and in-store live streaming and voice interactive technologies.
Experiential Retail dominated 2019
2019 was the “Dawn of Experimental Shopping“. From customer-centric interactive technologies (i.e. Augment Reality Smart Mirrors) to the back-office platforms for 24/7 shopping and in-store delivery, the physical store is being revitalized.
Here are the top retail trends for physical stores in 2019:
- In-Store Digital Retail: In Direct-to-Consumer concepts, retailers and brands entice their customers to enter their contact information or download the brand’s application for personalized marketing offers and innovative pricing models such as rentals, resales, and subscription.
- Immersive Store Experience: Retailers are moving away from a product-only sales model. Today, shoppers expect an amazing experience with fun (gamification), effective (service), and engaging (technology) physical store environment.
- Customer Research & Product Customization: Probably the most important trend in 2019 is using the physical store as the frontline research center. The industry jargon is Customer Co-Creation.
Ronny’s Pro Tip: Traditional retailers have a HUGE advantage compare to online darlings, including Amazon. Their customers come into the store every single day, in person! Ask your visitors & buyers why they come. The answers will surprise you 🙂
Let’s take a closer look into some of these cool concept stores:
2020 NYC Best Experiential Retail: Nordstrom Flagship on 57th Ave
The Nordstrom flagship is a triumph of a serious re-thinking about what retail and department stores are about and in particular the role of the physical store. There are three store concepts that stand out:
1) Service Center: elevating the physical store in the Customer’s Journey
From the customer’s perspective, the store serves as a beacon of convenience. The first floor is dedicated to a Service Bar, where customers can pick up and return and order and pay quickly and easily.
On the retailer’s side, the focus on customer service solves the serious challenges of erosions in profit margins due to online shipping costs and robust fraud returns. In addition, Omnichannel shoppers buy more. Most importantly, the in-store experience enhances the brand.
The Nordstrom flagship sits as the crown jewel in the Customer’s Journey
2) Destination Department Store: beyond “bland” with Stores-in-Store
Another interesting shift is the way Nordstrom is repositioning itself as a Destination Department Store. The flagship is, in essence, stores-within-store.
Burberry, for example, has its own unique enclave. So does Nike. Eileen Fisher has a huge pop up on the fifth floor. Glossier has a stage. And Canada Goose sponsors a broadcasting studio in the First Floor.
Each “little” store curates the goods and environment that adheres to its specialty audience.
Most importantly, the NYC flagship connects emotionally with the target audience of the young and affluent urban shopper with a focus on diversity. I stopped counting after the tenth employee with pink, blue, or green hair…
3) In-Store Customer Experience: no longer a cliché
Experimental Retail tends to be associated with coffee and food. In Nordstrom flagship, the experience factor is built-in every floor, and the venues are different in style, variety, and taste. The general idea is “come to the store and stay longer”.
On the fifth floor, you will find a high-end restaurant and bar. The food is good. The service is excellent. Here’s the interesting bit: a lady set next to me in the bar and told me that she comes to the store every day after work “to check out what’s new and eat in the restaurant”. Talk about brand loyalty!
My favorite was the Shoe Bar in the basement. “Martini and Shoes” sounds like a wet dream…
“I grew up selling shoes. … We think a lot about shoes. I don’t know why it took us so long to put drinking and shoes together, but it’s a great combination”Erik Nordstrom, co-president, Nordstrom (RetailDive)
320,000 sq and 7 floors of awesome, including 2 floors for beauty and 100 services, the flagship store is located on 57th Street & Broadway
2020 NYC Coolest Concept Store: Showfields (11 Bond St, SoHo)
Soho became the center of gravity for chic retailers such as Allbirds, RealReal, and Fablethics, but the leader in 2020 is Showfields.
Showfields promotes itself as “the most interesting store in the world.” A bit bombastic but it works. For professional retailers, the concept store is interesting because it is a “department store for pop-ups.”
In Showfields, you can check out gravity blankets and heat emitting beds, customize your hair shampoo and face creams, and play video games in the 1950s tube television.
Must-See Shops in Hudson Yards
Must see retail stores in Hudson Yards:
- B8ta: b8ta is a retail-as-a-service company where young (and not so young) adults play with innovative consumer electronics products. The hands-message widget made me do a “Harry Met Sally” 🙂
- Forty-Five Ten: The store presents over 400 designers with a focus on the unconventional, the eclectic, and the inspired merging of fashion and art. A fashionista’s heaven.
- Naadam: The store embodies the Naadam brand promise of working directly with herders and their goats to bring you the best cashmere sweaters. “Sustainable – Cruelty Free – Cashmere with a Conscience”. (Kudos to Hadas Saar)
- Neiman Marcus: Check out the beauty treatment rooms and spa services, which include an LED LightStim light therapy bed. Five floors of luxury bliss
- The Conservatory: a curated boutique with 50 brands offering goods that “defy traditional gender-specific presentations.” Each season, the store will offer interesting visuals in-store, in print, and digitally to “reflect the season’s Curriculum theme”
Nike’s Flagship “House of Innovation”: The #1 Immersive In-Store Customer Experience
In the flagship store on 5th Avenue (650 5th Ave), Nike revolutionized the retail/brand model of Direct to Consumer.
“Nike Live is the result of a singular vision: to design the most locally-relevant experience out there leveraging digital with personal service”Cathy Sparks, VP/GM of Global Nike Direct Stores & Service
Beyond the chic design and cool vibes of urban Millennials, Nike considers the NYC store as the “Face of Living Retail”.
The true strength of the store comes from a mix of an amazing experience for customers with a dose of serious actionable insights.
For example, customer loyalty is front and center. In the store, shoppers can customize their shoes, scan & pay, and get expert help from the staff and Nike’s fan community.
And embedded in the immersive design are the enticements to enroll in Nike’s digital world. Surrounding the gigantic display that tops from first to the sixth floor, and the spiral stairway, there are digital displays that will entice you to:
- Download the Nike App: AR-Based digital experience that follows you home
- Get Expert Help: How to find, and customize, the perfect product for you
- Deliver with Courier Service: anywhere in the city
- Buy It. Try it: No questions asked return guarantee
- Ask for iterations: when perfect is not good enough…
Here’s the brilliance behind the Nike App:
The customers can scan their foot and upload the design to their application.
Ronny’s Pro Tip: The 3D Spatial and Vision AI Deep Learning technologies create a win-win. Customers get the “perfect fit”. Nike gets a “personalized picture” of the individual customer.
Regardless of you are Nike’s fan or not, this is a magnificent store to visit.
Nike NYC makes real our vision of living retail — a dynamic and active shopping experience in an environment that’s as responsive as digital.Heidi O’Neill, President of Nike Direct
The SoHo Boutique of Rebecca Minkoff
The sauce to the brand’s staggering success is a mix of high tech stores, discounted warehouse, and savvy online site and sales strategy.
Located in Soho (96 Greene Street), the tiny flagship store is packed with high tech. The technology connects Smart Walls, RFID Tags, and Digital Fitting Rooms for seamless and interactive customer experience.
Ronny’s Pro Tip: Rebecca Minkoff created a customer-centric retail experience where each step in the Customer’s Journey is captured, measured, and analyzed.
As you walk into the boutique store, the first thing you see is a long mirror on the wall. Part touch screen, part mirror, the Smart Wall serves as the gateway to the store. Shoppers can search for products, colors, and sizes.
On the Smart Wall, you can ask Rebecca Minkoff for her personal recommendations.
And you can also order coffee, tea, or a glass of champagne.
Ronny’s Pro Tip: Physical stores should have an on-site promotion or event to get the shoppers’ contact info. Asking for a phone number during checkout tends to backfire. Focus on the benefits to your consumers
Here’s the secret – every digital page entices you to enter your phone number and go to the fitting rooms. This serves two purposes.
#1 The phone numbers are an entry point to the retailer’s loyalty list.
#2 The digital fitting rooms are the store’s highest level of conversion.
While Rebecca Minkoff is known for her designer bags, the focus in the Soho store is apparel.
The bags, accessories, and dresses are tagged with RFID. It allows the retailer to monitor which products enter the fitting room.
Inside the digital fitting room, mirrors, lights and communication power the customer’s immersive shopping experience.
You can change the lights to see how you look in different shades. You can browse styles. And if you need a different size or color or even an accessory, you all need is to push the call button for customer service.
Ronny’s Pro Tip: Smart fitting rooms fail if the retailer does not consider HOW the checkout experience is in context with staff policies, sales process & consumer behaviors.
Here’s another fabulous feature: the smart fitting room is a self-service checkout.
The digital fitting room takes away the friction of the checkout.
During the fitting experience, customers can enter their credit cards and pay. By combining the “touch and feel” with the checkout, the retailer reduced friction in the sales process.
And it works. During the first year, sales of apparel tripled.
An important benefit of the data is better incentives for the store’s associates.
Beyond the initial visit to the store, the staff can connect with customers.
In return, the associates receive commissions from online purchases.
Ronny’s Pro Tip: 90% of technology projects don’t fail. 90% of technology projects that DON’T take into account the retailer’s policies and employees do.
The Soho vintage store serves a marketing vehicle. The store hosts a variety of events, from women groups to student programs.
Rebbeca Minkoff also sponsors street parties and parades. The flagship store is often promoted to the press as the Connect Store.
The physical store is one piece in the business model. Nearby, the retailer has a warehouse that sells discounted designer clothes and bags.
And the online store serves as a vibrant and global store.
The Rebecca Minkoff high-tech store is a great example of selling fun and fashion.
Ronny’s Pro Tip: From the customer’s point of view, the smart store is a “cool store”. For the retailer & brand, the physical store is the best way to entice people for their personal data and start the customer’s journey
The Amazing Retail Experience of Sonos
Sonos is the ultimate physical-store-turned-into-game (Gamification).
While Sonos sells stereos and speakers, it positions itself as a Home Sound System.
The In-Store Sonos Sound application connects multiple speakers, in different rooms, for a powerful experience. The value of the Sound Booth to the customer is the immersive sound of music.
As you walk into the store, the long corridor is aligned with sound-proof booths. The booths are designed to emulate the home. Each wall symbolizes a room – Living Room, Dining Room, and Kitchen.
At the center of the booth, there is a tablet where you can play with the Sonos application. The software connects the multiple speakers around the booth. You can change songs, control the features such as sound, and check speakers in each room.
Since you are standing in a sound-proof booth, the music takes over. It is an amazing, immersive, and interactive customer experience.
Ronny’s Pro Tip: Some people view experiential retail as a cliche, but the Sonos store is innovative retailing in the sense that it has a very defined marketing segment (young adults), clarity in the promotion (gamification), and is located in a trendy part of New York City (Soho). In other words, a successful online strategy translated into offline.
Gamification is a successful strategy in selling to young adults, which is the core retail segment.
The sound-proof booth serves as the trigger for customers to engage with the products. And the customer experience is both personal and social. There were 4 people in the group and we spend more than 20 minutes in the store.
Sonos sells speakers but their store tells the love of sound.
67% of retail winners strongly agree that the physical store will stay the “primary face to the consumer”– RSR Research, The Retail Store 2018, from Apocalypse to Renaissance.
NYC Store Tour by Ronny Max
The stores are listed according to their district in NYC. You should use Google Maps as your Guide. Click here for Ronny’s Store Tour.
Innovative BIG Flagship Stores in Upper Midtown Manhattan
Midtown Manhattan covers the areas surrounding Times Square, Penn Station, and their offshoot streets. If you have a couple of hours to stroll around, this is a worthwhile tour to see the tourist soul of New York City.
- Adidas (565 5th Ave): The flagship store of Adidas includes a track for runners, customized shirts, and bleachers in front of gigantic digital screens.
- American Cover Girl (75 Rockefeller Plaza): Interactive and innovative stores for girls. In the Girl & Doll salon, dolls et hairstyling, ear piercing, and manicures.
- Dyson (640 5th Ave): The new appliance flagship is both a museum and a demo store. Vacuum cleaners can be cool!
- FAO Schwarz (30 Rockefeller Plaza): After closing its famous “Lost in New York” toy store, the iconic retailer has a new home with toy soldiers, race cars, and magicians.
- IKEA Planning Center (999 3rd Ave): A long staircase will take into a variety of kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms. Designed for urban life, you can purchase in the store but the furniture will be delivered directly to your home.
- Lululemon (597 5th Ave): This sportswear flagship offers experience over a purchase, with meditation studio and Zen Pods.
- Nike (650 5th Ave.): Nike’s House of Innovation includes customized shoes, expert advice, tailoring, courier delivery and more. NYC Concept Store for 2019.
- Nordstrom Flagship (57th St & Browdway): 320,000 sq and 7 floors of awesome, including 2 floors for beauty and 100 services such as facials. It is worth a visit just to see the wave-form glass facade, and – my personal fantasy – a cocktail bar in the shoe department 🙂
- Nordstrom Men’s Store (235 W 57th Street ): Nordstrom opened its
first and new store in NYC as men-only. Check out the AR projected on the store’s mannequins.
- Puma Flagship (609 5th Ave): The athletics brand’s first physical store in North America is massive, and is located close to Nike and Addidas at Midtown. You can check out the F1 racing simulator and test boots in a soccer simulator. I love this quote from CEO Bjoern Gulden. “This location is another place to talk to the consumer.”
Must-See Retail Concept Stores in Midtown East & Midtown West
Midtown East is best known for the Grand Central Terminal and United Nations Building. Here are the must-visit retail locations:
- Amazon Books (7 W 34th St.): A bookstore to sell devices such as Alexa Echo and Kindles. Pricing is done through the web, with special discounts to Prime Members.
- Amazon Go (Brookfield Place): The touchless convenience store has arrived in NYC. You need to be a Prime Member to enter because this is where customers opt-in is to be scanned and analyzed…Check out the first Amazon Go.
- BirchBox at Walgreens & Duane Read: Birchbox disrupted retail with its subscription business. In partnership with Walgreens, customers will be able to design their own beauty box in-store. One of the 11 stores is at 40 Wall Street in Lower Manhattan
- Dover Street Market (160 Lexington Ave): Designer clothes mixed with seasonal flavors and a gourmet cafe.
- Macy’s (151 W 34th St.): The store-within-store concept is revitalizing the traditional department store.
- MM.Lafleur (130 W. 42nd St.): Buy your business apparel “by appointment” and a glass of champagne. Your purchase will be delivered, in a box, directly to your home.
- Petco Pet Kitchen (Union Square): Experimental Retail is not just for humans 🙂 Taking a cue from the many retail stores that now have an in-store cafe, Petco added a live pet food kitchen.
- Sephora (112 West 34th St): The focus is beauty services, with 15-minute touch-up, 45-minute makeover or 90-minute consultation.
- Shops at Hudson Yards (West Side Yard 12th Ave): The $25 Billion development, with more than 100 retail stores and a “floor of discovery”, is considered the most expensive shopping center and real-estate development in the United States.
Fun Retail in Times Square
- Cover Girl (Times Square 719 7th Ave): Beauty brands are a trailblazer in Augmented Reality. The CoverGirl store is a fantastic example of the power of being in a physical store where a professional stylist will help you customize your perfect makeup. Did we mention the (AI) Olivia?
- Disney Store (Times Square 1540 Broadway): Disney has a long history of using physical locations to build its brand and cross-selling of movies, toys, and theme parks. Got kids? Go to Disney and take a frozen picture
- Hershey’s Chocolate World (Times Square): Personalization & tons of chocolate fun for kids and (young at heart) adults
- Levi’s (Times Square): The iconic brand with a new-age Tailor Shop where you can customize jeans with big buttons, colorful patches, and stitch embroidery. (“I live in Levi’s Jeans” – Ronny Max)
Design & Futuristic Stores in Chelsea & Meatpacking Districts
\If you are in New York for a conference in Javitz Center, take a slow stroll through High Line to bohemian Chelsea Market and vibrant Meatpacking district, the coolest locations in NYC where restaurants and nightlife replaced warehouses.
- Neighborhood Goods, Chelsea Market (75 9th Ave): A curated line-up of over 40 brands, a restaurant, and convenience store, make up this new concept in department stores. The community-oriented store hosts events, themed activities, and seminars on topics such as photography.
- RH, formerly Restoration Hardware (9 9th Ave): A stunning new store for upscale furniture and home. Check the rooftop restaurant, wine terrace, and design services.
- Samsung 837 (837 Washington): Smartphone, tablets, and Augmented Reality. A good place to chill out, eat a bite, and play with Augmented Reality.
Experimental, Vintage & Boutiques in the “Cool” Streets of Soho
The best shopping streets of New York City are in Soho. This tiny hub of streets is full of boutiques and small shops catering to affluent Millennials and self-aspiring students. Always interesting!
- Allbirds (68 Prince Street): For lovers of high-end footwear, this is a place to learn more about how to design shoes, including the open-source Sugar Zaffer flipflops.
- Amazon 4Star (72 Spring St): This store displays only products that received votes of 4 plus. This is the power of recommendations in action.
- Amour Vert (8 Prince St): A fashion boutique that considers itself American-made sustainable
- Cadillac House (330 Hudson St): A car showroom, coffee shop, Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Retail Lab and an art gallery live together under one roof.
- Converse (560 Broadway): This store is simply beautiful. Add a customization lab, and you have a store for the hardcore fans of Converse. Design Rules!
- Em Pty Gallery (51 Mercer St): Designer boutique. A beautiful example of a designer’s vintage store.
- Everlane (28 Prince St.): A brick-and-mortar store with an integrated I.D. system. The wallet-free shopping experience is a “friction-free” online idea.
- Fablethics Popup in Soho: People who are brand new to Feblethics think about its founder Kate Hudson. But Fablethics is a true trailblazer in the digitalized physical store & in-store optimization. The popup is located at 577 Broadway.
- Glossier (123 Lafayette St.): Showroom of the famed online beauty brands. The store has interactive mirrors and unique fragrance experience.
- Moose Knuckles (57 Green Street): The cool Canadian company with its rugged luxury sportswear opened its first flagship. “This city embodies what Moose Knuckles is about,” says Moose Knuckles CEO Ayal Twik. “It’s raw, it’s real, and one of a kind.”
- Phluid Project (684 Broadway): This store bills itself as “the world’s first gender-free store”. The location is close to NYU and Parson School of Design.
- RealReal (80 Wooster St.): The online vintage brand in a boutique-like location with pull-out racks. The magic comes from “personalization of scheduled appointments”.
- Rebecca Minkoff (96 Greene St): A retailer that cracked the code for Unified Commerce. Featured Concept Store for 2018.
- Shake Shack (51 Astor Pl., East Village): Cashless kiosk restaurant serving roadside burgers, fries, shakes, beer, and more. The future of Quick Service Restaurants (QSR)
- Showfields (11 Bond St. Soho): Advertised as “the most interesting store in the world”, the store aims to combine retail, art, and community. 4 floors of experience
- Sonos (101 Greene St): The Sonos sound booths are designed to emulate rooms inside a home. Interactive & Fun!!! Featured concept store.
- Vintage Twin (543 Broadway): A pop-up vintage shop. This chic company is unique because 10% of its proceeds go to charity.
Oculus Shopping Center: Unique Retail next to World Trade Center & 9/11 Memorial
The Oculus Mall (World Trade Center) is simply beautiful. Also if you’re an international visitor, the 9/11 memorial is an eye to what drives America.
Here are stores that are worth a visit:
- Apple: A retailer that introduced smartphones and elegant designs to the world is now focused on social communities. There are 2 stores on each level. Always worth a visit.
- Burberry: If you loved Sting’s Englishmen in New York, you’d love this British Brand. Burberry was pivotal in experimenting with shopper personalization.
- Casper: famed online brand for… selling mattress. Casper’s way to sell a bland product that people rarely buy is a case study in online and retail innovation. Concept: Showroom for the brand.
Ronny’s Pro Tip: In 2020, the success of a shopping center will depend on creating the environment for social, service, and safety
As shopping malls turn into Destination Experience Centers, we will see more experimental retail inside metro areas.
More Amazing Retail Stores to Explore in Brooklyn
- A/D/O (29 Norman Ave): Creative space that is a hybrid retail shop, restaurant, workspace and start-up accelerator created by the automaker MINI.
- Dekalb Market Hall (445 Albee Square West): A high end and styled grocery store with a localized assortment of food to take home, or eat inside.
- Narnia Vintage (672 Driggs Ave): An apartment-turned-vintage store that sells clothing, textiles, and jewelry. Gorgeous backyard.
- Whole Foods 365 (292 Ashland Place): Millennial-focused supermarket featuring low prices, and digital beer experience. Payment options include Scan & Go.
- Wegmans in Brooklyn Yards: Award winner grocer opened a new supermarket with food bars, cocktail bar, and outdoor seating
Must See Walmart’s Intelligent Lab in Long Island
While Walmart’s newest concept store is outside NYC, you should suffer through the 1-hour ride to Levittown, Long Island.
Walmart Intelligent Retail Lab in Long Island is plastered with vision-based AI. To Walmart’s credit, transparency is a key theme with the data center sitting behind a glass wall. With over 1500 cameras, the grocery is described as an Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL).
Ronny’s Pro Tip: Vision technology combines low-cost cameras, product imaging, and facial recognition, an irresistible proposition to retailers and brands. 2019 is the year Vision AI will dominate in tracking people behaviors in physical locations.
The Retail “Stores of the Future” are Already in New York City
Much has been said about the death of retail, but I like to think we’re in the midst of a Retail Renaissance.
A recent study by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) showed that opening a physical store increases online traffic by 36% for established retailers and 45% for emerging brands.
Moreover, In-Store Purchase Funnel is about to be integrated seamlessly into Unified Commerce. The stores will become Experience Retail.
In addition to Interactive Technologies such as Smart Fitting Rooms, watch for more in-store immersive innovations in 3D Printing, Eye-Tracking, and Augmented Reality.
If you feel overwhelmed by the pace of change, you should remember one concept:
TECHNOLOGY CHANGES, PEOPLE DON’T
Join the conversion, upload your picture, and leave a comment below. Which store you think is the BEST retail store in NYC?