GDR’s Global Client Director Rachel Wilkinson dropped into Samsung’s stylish new destination in London’s King’s Cross to find out if it delivers on its experiential retail promise.
To be crystal clear, in the words of Samsung: “It’s not a shop. It’s everything a shop isn’t”. It’s a place you can #DoWhatYouCant. With these claims in mind, I headed to King’s Cross to check out if Samsung’s new experience destination lived up to the hype.
Samsung KX is situated in the new artsy/media zone of London, a stone’s throw from Havas, OMD, YouTube, The Royal College of Art and construction of the enormous new Google HQ. This is no accident for a brand which is keen to ramp up its ‘cool factor’. In fact, the Samsung store is the jewel in the crown of Argent & Heatherwick’s stunning development of trendy boutiques and overpriced independent stores nobody can actually afford within Coal Drops Yard. It sits atop the main courtyard, bridging the two original coal warehouses to form the heart of the development. It is visually striking from all angles, whether illuminated like a beacon at night, or in the day with its enormous floor-to-ceiling windows forming a ‘kiss’.
Powerful first impression
As you enter the store you are struck by how beautiful and enormous the space actually is. The full length windows stream in light whilst providing fabulous, almost 360 views outside. A huge theatre zone with a massive screen dominates the store, with TV room sets, a sound lounge, a ‘smart’ home area, the obligatory cafe to sip your flat whites in and interactive product zones. The high ceilings and open space create the perfect platform for an experience space and the experiences come thick and fast – from a digital graffiti wall on a huge digital screen in the theatre area, to VR racing games, an AR message tree, DJ Galaxy mixing zone and even a Samsung concept car (more on this later).
Samsung has an eclectic events calendar planned (seemingly focused on encouraging millennials to re-visit), from Terrarium Masterclasses (!!) to a Coffee Brew demo. For those interested in self-improvement, you can attend a Guardian-sponsored lecture on “Why life isn’t as bad as you think” or attend the Galaxy S10 Travel masterclass on how to get the best from your phone. The space is designed to support visitors’ passions, with an ongoing programme scheduled that features yoga and fitness, gaming, science and tech, and food and drink.
My most memorable experience, however, was in the ‘customisation zone’. A rather pointless, but strangely engaging wooden egg printer (bear with me here…) allows you to create a little ‘3D Me’ egg Weeble. Using a mobile app to select hair, face and a pattern, you then watch enthralled as a Sharpie fashions your likeness on a wooden egg which you can then take home – for FREE.
In fact it was so much fun, that my entire family walked off with one. Why? I can’t explain the attraction. Perhaps it is because it is a nice keepsake you can take home? Or just totally unexpected? What does this say about the Samsung brand? Who knows? But it sits proudly on my desk now and is made from rather nice wood.
Products overshadowed by the fun
Strangely it is on the product display side, where I feel the store does not deliver.
At the front of the store, there is a throwback to Mad Men, with three 1960s style TV room sets. As soon as I sat down on one of the sofas, Brent appeared to personally escort me through the TV range (and in fact, around the entire store). Brent was super enthusiastic and helpful, but not a salesman – he was a grandly titled: “Discoverer/Creator/Collaborator”. He was extremely proud to be working at the new store and he explained that he “was not there to sell me anything, but to show me how things worked.”
In Brent’s capable hands, the TV sprung to life and showed what looked like a racing game on the screen. I naturally expected a game demo to be launched, but in fact it became apparent there was no game demo here, which was quite surprising given many parents give up their visual pleasure for squabbling offspring to fight/race and takeover their lounges. Instead I was given a pretty standard demo of the TV (and I’m not even sure which TV it was in retrospect because I was so underwhelmed).
Honestly, I was disappointed. Given the space and dedicated room set I had just entered, I had expected to receive an amazing audio/visual experience that would knock the socks off Selfridges’ show room. But this is where the huge ceilings and open space actually work against Samsung, as it only served to diffuse the sound, rather than amplify it, so the demo was disappointingly lacklustre and non-impactful (not helped by the additional buzz of the people and other activities around the store). This seems like a huge missed trick. It’s truly rare to get this much space in retail to showcase your product and deliver a real experience and it felt as if the room design took precedence over the showcasing of the TV’s sound, colour, power and capabilities. I asked if Samsung’s virtual assistant Bixby could control the lighting, volume and TV in this room set, and then followed much apology that “it didn’t work right now because this was the soft launch”.
Moving onto the smart home area I found much the same here. Whilst there is a large kitchen room set showcasing ‘smart things’ such as the Family Hub fridge, QuickDrive washing machine, steaming closet and hobs, the reality was that very little was actually working properly or able to demonstrate its “smarts” due to poor Wi-Fi or Bixby (or other tech) not working. Given the real capabilities and superior appliance range I know Samsung has, it is a massive shame that this home area does nothing to educate the layman (aka their consumers) on what smart living is, because they should rightfully be in a leading position in smart homes and connected living.
The driving force of the brand experience
In fact, the most impressive part of the store is not the product that you expect to be there, but the experiences that you don’t. Anyone heard of the Samsung car? Nope, me neither! But this was truly the most unexpected highlight for me and one which presents and positions Samsung as a connected brand, capable of smarter thinking and digital user experience.
This concept car is the result of a long running collaboration between Samsung and Renault. First showcased in the form of Symbioz at Frankfurt in 2017, this evolution is due to go into manufacture in 2020. And I cannot wait. I spent the entire demo (by the extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic Discoverer/Creator/Collaborator who is a Petrolhead/Charismatic/Foodie) saying: “Why don’t all cars have this?”. It is clear that the designers from the ‘Digital Cockpit Lab’ have really thought about the user experience, the interface and passengers on a human (rather than manufacturer) level.
Wooseok Hwang, a User Experience Designer at Samsung said: “My ideas came from paying close attention to other people when I was traveling with a friend or driving with other people.”
The insight used to create solutions within this car are strikingly clear. The Samsung and Harman tech used is not only far superior to any car I have sat in before, but also genuinely delivers on Samsung’s promise of ‘Smart things’ and a ‘Connected Lifestyle’. The digital cockpit, knobs, wing mirrors and gizmos are all fabulous and sexy. The sound is fantastic. But it’s also helpful; you can use the Smart Things integration on the car’s digital dashboard to link through to your fridge at home and actually see if you have any milk, while driving to Waitrose.
The car can be personalised to each driver using personal profiles, which automatically adjust to all of your preferences, from music to seat position. It also has ground-breaking safety features. The wheel has camera and facial recognition built in to respond (or alert) if you are ‘distracted / falling asleep / turn around. And in the passenger seats the designers have understood the way people really live and work – A DeX station in the central car rest lets you slot in and charge your mobile, whilst transforming the backseat iPads into desktops.
This car is not only highly intuitive and useful, but supports the driver and passenger with information, entertainment and services that transform it from simply an automobile that moves you around to a genuinely smart vehicle, holistically connected to your smart lifestyle. I shall be waiting with bated breath to see this car fly off the forecourts in 2020, and I came away from the store with the feeling that Samsung is so much more than just a phone.