NEW YORK — The Big Apple has always been known as a go-to place to shop, but in recent years it has also revealed itself to be a testing ground for new store concepts. As retailers experiment with technology, engage with audiences and launch digitally native brands into brick-and-mortar spaces, placing a store in Manhattan is a way to encounter diverse clientele. It's also a way for brands to create buzz and enthusiasm for their companies.
Here are five brands in New York who are thinking creatively about retail through the use of technology, merchandising and social media.
Levi's may have been around since 1853, but the company needs to introduce its brand to an entirely new generation. How does an American heritage brand prove its reliability and cool factor to a group of consumers that grew up with fast fashion?
Part of the answer may be found in its Times Square location. The majority of the multi-level store is dedicated to apparel. But, a section in the back of the store known as the Tailor Shop infuses the space with both craft and tech. Here, shoppers can watch as tailors add customized elements to their jeans including buttons, patches, and chain stitch embroidery. Jeans can also be hemmed or distressed (one of their most popular services) or customers can create a personalized T-shirt design through a direct-to-garment printing service.
Store associates are able to check out shoppers throughout the store by utilizing smartphones that they carry around their wrists. The mobile units also are able to access inventory to see stock levels and what needs to be replenished on the store floor.
Although the beauty brand has long been a staple of drug stores, CoverGirl opened their first location dedicated to the brand in November 2018. It was touted as an experiential space that featured the latest in technology, and it does not disappoint.
Shoppers are welcomed by an AI greeter, Olivia, when walking into the store and can virtually try on products at an AR station, make a video in a photo booth, and take pictures throughout the Instagram-able space. The flagship also features a variety of CoverGirl products that can only be found at that location including baby clothes, water bottles and phone cases.
But, the best thing about the store simply comes down to the products. The brick-and-mortar location offers something that most other places that carry the brand do not — the ability to try on the makeup.
3. FAO Schwarz
The famed retailer FAO Schwarz only recently made a comeback in New York. The toy store was a Manhattan institution but had to close its doors in 2015 when then-owner Toys R Us shuttered its Fifth Avenue store due to high rent. Since that time the brand gained a new owner in ThreeSixty Group and moved from its original home to Rockefeller Center.
The space is primed for play. Customers are greeted by toy soldiers who stand watch outside of the store (and are ready to take selfies). A magician may entice you with a card trick. You can Build-a-Bear, create a custom toy race car, run around in a rocket ship or play a song on the store's legendary piano.
4. North Face
The most impressive aspect of the North Face's Manhattan location is not its technological advancements or flashy new products. The 20,000-square-foot store has something that is in very short supply in New York — space. The interior is set up in a way that evokes a sense of calm and peace. There are nods to the outdoors in small ways, like a pile of wood under a display, and in clever ways, like the dressing room that looks like a tent.
The brand allows a customer who lives in one of the busiest cities in the world to translate how outdoor wear can be applicable to an urban lifestyle. The store also instills an air of wanderlust, where the customer has the space to dream and plan their next outdoor adventure.
From the sidewalk of Fifth Avenue customers may assume they are about to walk into a garden shop. Only when you step into the store does it become obvious that you are encountering the Timberland brand. Shoes are placed in terrariums, products are on clear platforms that contain pinecones and boots peek out of a wall of greenery.
Timberland lets nature lead the way, and in doing so has given the consumer a way to visualize all the places products can be worn. The experiential store goes a step further by introducing weather stations. Customers can go into a "rain room" as a reminder that the products are waterproof or walk into a snow scene with a park bench as an example that their brand is ready for the cold.