Retail is dead. Or is it? I was in New York to see what is happning on Manhattan with new concepts and interesting retail. At one point I actually paid 18 USD to enter a store… Is this the future of retail?
In my job as a trendhunter I go to New York every now and then, to see how everything evolves there. This hub is extremely important from a trend perspective. I mean, just look how Europe have been filled with food trucks, as an example.
One of the main reasons I go to New York is to attend the design week of this city. But the design industry is running a bit on empty. It is a bit repetitive. In contrast I notice that retail is absolutely happening this year. Everyone is rather talking about retail than design.
When I got to New York 2018 I was struck by how many empty stores there were. I did a report here. The last report I read about vacant spaces was from 2016 and that concluded that 20% of all stores in New York are vacant. I think the number absolutely increased. Could it be that 30-35% of all stores are vacant? And that is true to all areas – Soho, Midtown, Uptown, etc, etc. Everywhere shops are closing.
But retail is happening. Really. Going to the design fair of ICFF the talks about innovative retail attracts more people than talks of design innovation. In this presentation the speaker points out three examples that I also have on my list (Starbucks, Story at Macy’s and Camp).
During my four days in New York I had a list of interesting store concepts that weren’t here last year. If you go to New York and are interested in retail, make sure to visit the following:
This is Story at Macy’s, 151 West 34th Street
Amazon 4 star, 72 Spring Street
Nike House of Innovation, 650 Fifth Avenue
Pluid Project , 684 Broadway
Showfields (the world’s most interesting store), 11 Bond Street
Camp, 5th Avenue, Flatiron building
Gucci Bookstore, 375 W Broadway
Drug Store by Dirty Linen, 6293 Church Street
Starbucks Reserve, 61 9th Avenue
Let’s start with Camp. Picture from my instagram. Camp is a family store. You could call it kid’s store… When you enter the store you see a well curated store with great stuff. Toys, books, candy etc. Great staff. But the gem is when the staff asks you “do you wanna see the secret room?”. They push a bookcase and a whole new world opens up. I would guess that the front shop is one third and the rest is two thirds of the space.
Rules for the secret room. And it was amazing. AAAAAAAMAAAAAAZZZZZING. I wanted to be a kid and play with everything at the store. The level of engagement from the staff was great, the curation and of course the fun atmosphere. Noone was neutral after going through the secret door.
Things at Camp.
Another new concept was Showfields. With great ambition they want to reinvent retail. Located in a brick building in Noho they want to be kind of a department store for young, innovative and interesting brands. This means that each brand get a dedicated section with walls. Kind of like a market like Canal Street Market. I give it a 50/50 chance of survival. There are so many factors for a space like this to actually survive. But absolutely worth seeing now.
Quirky installations like this with mirrors that get activated when you smile.
Innovative solutions like Swedish Klarna.
Concepts for subscribing on towels like at hotels.
You can even use a slide between the floors instead of taking the stairs.
But the challange is of course to fill this department store with initiatives that are interesting enough. Local crafts stuff from Brooklyn is not appealing enough, or posters or dog food… You get the concept. It is like Canal Street Market but slightly more innovative since it is so brand new. We’ll see if they are still around next year.
A retail must is of course to see the world’s first Amazon store. There are now a few over USA, but this is the first one. The concept is genious. All items are top rated, top bought and top everything. So there aren’t 400 kinds of wine glasses. Only two – red or wine. But the top ones. Perhaps not in your taste, and that is fine, but these are the top products.
Extremely commercial. And kind of a reaction to everything curated. Here there is no person, but an algorythm.
One thing that really surprised me, were the categories. The home decoration section gets the same space as candles or bakeware.
Nothing fancy. Just the categories that sell.
And just limited. Under a shelf with the theme Quirky Kitchen Stuff, you would imagine hundreds of objects but here it is only about 30-40 objects. And only the best rated ones.
Camp was talked about at the conference I was mentioning above. So was the concept of This is Story. I talked about the concept already last year. It used to be a space that changed the whole concept of the store every six weeks or so. When I was there the theme was “office” but it could just as well have been “garden”, “wood” or “love”. The theme was then visible in the curation. Everything in the shop was under that theme.
Late last year Macy’s bought This is Story and the original shop is now closed. Instead there will be new sections at many Macy’s called Story at Macy’s. The interesting aspect is of course – how can you work with something so niched at a massmarket place.
So what Story is doing now is making it plainer and simpler. They are still working with small brands but under colour themes.
I think it is a nice compromise. Something curated and niched.
Last year also Nike opened a new concept. Instead of calling itself a “store” they call themselves “house of innovation”. I personally did not love this. I think perhaps I didn’t understand everything. People I interviewed said things like “it is amazing how you can get your sports bra adjusted and personalized in the store” or “i love how they changed the whole look with such a small budget”.
Well. Not my thing.
Another project that has been getting some attention is The Drug Store. It is basically a small kiosk with vending machines containing drinks. And it is staff free. And paying is volontary…
A bit gadgety, but interesting. Also saw one at Hudson Yards, but we’ll come back to Hudson Yards. Or should we do it right away??
Hudson Yards is the new shopping, living and eating complex on Manhattan. Opened on March 15th this year. It’s marble, fancy and all new. But still a mall. The newness makes it attractive. The selection of shops is expected. Yes, H&M and Zara is here as is Cartier and Louis Vuitton.
You will find nice looking stores like Fortyfiveten, but the content is the same as everywhere…
And it was at Hudson Yard I paid my 18 USD to get into a store.
Well, it was of course more than a store. But still. The concept is interesting. Fashion store Kith is experimenting. To my knowledge they are one of the first fashion brands to combine expensive fashion (like Gucci, Balenciaga, etc) and serving ice cream. Yes, instead of buying that expensive shirt you can buy ice cream and feel good about yourself.
So at Hudson Yards, they sell ice cream. I assume they aim to drive traffic to the website where the ordinary transactions are made. The Kith physical space will be all about experiences.
Like using one of those carnival machines to get a fluffy toy. No, this is not free either. Everything costs at Kith.
So what you get for 18 USD is an installation. This time by Snarkitechture. Could it have been 100 sqm? Big, but not overly big. And full of tactile (oh so trendy) installations.
18 USD and no fluffy toy or ice cream. Not even a discount at the online store.
Was it worth it? Not really sure I would pay 18 USD again to something like this, but I am sure this is something for the future.
Interactivity (and instagrammable) will be extremely important when building brands. Here the same architects (Snarkitechture) doing an installation for Lexus in Meatpacking District – but free of charge. Why pay 18 USD at Kith?
Moving on. Speaking of building brands – what’s up with Gucci? I was talking to a luxury retail expert and he said that premium behaviour will be in the extremely small gestures. Like how you serve someone wine at First Class at an airline (or other means of transportation…). In April I was at the Gucci pop up in Milan and they were so extremely attentive – and kind. I was waiting for someone and they even asked if I wanted coffee. At Gucci? And I am the guy always wearing jeans and t-shirt.
And same experience at Gucci Bookshop in Soho. The kind staff introduced the shop and basically wanted to exchange book suggestions.
Is kindness the new premium?
Anyway – Gucci has a new bookstore in New York. Vintage books and ordinary books on sale. Loved it.
Starbucks have opened a new concept they call Starbuck Reserve. As with the Nike concept. Not my thing. It’s bigger. You get to see coffee get roasted. You get to shop special coffee or gifts. Like any brewery… People are going bananas over the concepts in New York and Milan. To me they are just so-so.
Last chapter from this trip. I want to talk about awareness. You can even talk about activism. But in a world where we have anti-consumerism we will have to have a reason to go into a store and possibly shop. I really think awareness is one of those tools. Of course is is about climate, sustainability but also about women or other things.
A store that has gotten some attention is Phluid. They call themselves the first genderfree shop. And of course you find all kinds of rainbows here.
But also cute scented candles.
Another store, just by Flatiron building is Fishs Eddy, a store that sells tableware. New and old.
And speaking of activity driven retail – this is a shop where you can get your pet a portrait.
But this is what New York looks like now. Stores taking stand for a better world.
So what will happen to the 30% stores that are closed today?
I am pretty sure they will become gyms. Any kind. Yoga studios, boxing studios, spinning studios – whatever but instead of retail, expect gym.