The shop window at multi-brand New York concept store Showfields proclaims it to be “The most interesting store in the world”. GDR SVP Global Innovation Alex Sbardella dropped in when he was in town to put this rather lofty claim to the test.
While I was in New York for the NRF’s BIG Show I made sure to check out the self-proclaimed “most interesting store in the world”. Showfields is essentially a curated space that hosts start-ups and up-and-coming digital-first brands with little or no physical store footprint in a unique environment built for exploration and product discovery.
It’s a little like a museum space made up of pop-ups from a range of new and exciting brands that merge product trial, experience and purchase. At launch nine wellness-focused brands, including bespoke shampoo start-up Function of Beauty, florists It’s By U, bedding brand Boll & Branch and plant-based skincare experts Nuria, took up residence. Showfields also has three more floors in the 11 Bond Street building and plans to add curated spaces based on home, design and community in the future.
The first thing that struck me was the symmetry between Showfields and the NRF’s Expo space that I’d just visited. Both are essentially halls full of display stands selling interesting and innovative things that you won’t see elsewhere. This is how we’re used to buying B2B products, but it felt really novel to browse and buy B2C products in this way.
One difference at Showfields, though, is that, with the exception of the Quip toothbrush stall, all of the displays were completely unmanned, inviting customers to go on a journey of self-discovery. The only staff on site were from Showfields, rather than from the individual brands, but they were brilliant. They knew everything about every product and were super engaged.
Probably the most important aspect of Showfields for the brands appearing there is the opportunity to physically get their products into their customers’ hands. There were some really well done sensorial and tactile displays – the best of which was from Australian coffee-based body scrub brand Frank Body. Customers are invited to open drawers with their products inside and take in the rich coffee scent, before moving onto the next section where they can literally get their hands on the products and test how they feel on their skin.
Gravity, which refers to itself as a sleep and relaxation company, also has a bed where people can try out its weighted blanket, which is said to weigh one tenth of your body weight to create the sensation that you are being hugged throughout the night. The space included a guided meditation soundtrack by wellness specialists Calm. I tried it out and it’s not for me, but it’s exactly the type of premium purchase people aren’t going to make without trying it out first, so it makes a lot of sense for them to be there.
When I spoke to the Quip salesperson, they told me that moving the brand into a physical setting has been so successful, that they literally can’t hold on to stock – as soon as it comes in, it’s just flying off the shelves.
Online and offline
One of the key elements of Showfields is the way it merges online and offline. All of the stalls have a small, core assortment of stock that customers can buy and take away with them. But tablets also let them explore each brand’s ecommerce sites to check out their full range and make additional purchases.
Interestingly, at the Quip stall, when it comes to completing purchase customers are able to transfer the transaction to their own phones, so they don’t have to input any personal information on what is essentially a shared/public device.
A nice design touch that bridges the online/offline divide is the IRL (In Real Like) button by the exit, which customers are encouraged to press. I’m told it doesn’t link to the Showfields social media accounts, but that the store does use it to keep track of how many customers leave satisfied.
While arguably spaces designed for Instagram are becoming a bit old hat these days, there is also plenty at Showfields to keep your social accounts ticking over. The window displays are picked for maximum aesthetic appeal. Function of Beauty’s colourful shampoo bottles and bath filled with soft play balls that customers are encouraged to get in, fill one window, while City Row Go’s rowing machine sits in another backed by an eye-catching spotlight wall.
There are also some innovative uses of wall space. Gravity has a sharing wall where customers are encouraged to post their hopes and dreams on a piece of paper, before taking away someone else’s aspirational thought. Nuria Beauty takes a different approach, inviting customers to take a picture on a polaroid and to stick it to a map of the world to show where they’re from.
The key question
So, was it the most interesting store in the world? No, it wasn’t. But it was the most interesting thing I saw in New York during NRF week, which is about as much as you can ask for from any new store I’d say. Even though I didn’t go in with the intention of buying anything from any of the brands, it was a really fun experience just to move from stall to stall ready to be inspired and amazed. I can see many people dropping in just to try something different, and with three more floors set to launch in the future, there’s a good chance I’ll pay it a visit again next time I’m in New York.