Are retail spaces becoming more public?

Jul 26, 2016

GDR’s consultant Bia Bezamat reflects on her recent visit to New York and the emerging trend towards retailers becoming community hubs. 

If you are a GDR newsletter subscriber you’ll have seen my piece about my recent trip to New York, where I experienced some great new retail spaces. New York, and perhaps America in general, excels in the art of experience-making. Sectors such as sports and athleisure have been masters at this for years – from Lululemon’s famous in-store yoga classes to Nike’s cult-like running clubs. But as bricks-and-mortar retail tries to find its footing in an increasingly digital world, we are now seeing brands hand over some of the control of these experiences to customers themselves.

Genius Grove 2A great example of this is Angela Ahrendt’s new Apple store in San Francisco, which opened this May. This is an interesting indicator of the direction Apple’s physical retail intends to take in the future. Gone are the purposively low laptop display tables that discouraged free Internet scroungers from hanging around for too long. Now the brand is consciously providing a free-for-all community space. Areas have been given friendly names such as The Plaza and The Avenue, and visitors are welcome to enjoy their packed lunches (and Apple’s free Wi-Fi) outside in a seating area graced by a fountain and 50 ft green wall that is open to the public 24/7.

Related content: Can Amazon Fresh’s same-day promise compete with in-store experience?

I am also a big fan of Samsung’s recent marketing activities, and its new Samsung 837 space in New York’s Meatpacking district. This is a mature move by Samsung, presenting the brand as a lifestyle brand that you want to hang out with, and tell your friends about. As I walked around the city I found myself going back to 837 time and time again, to play with the tech and drink copious amounts of iced coffee. This permanent spot doesn’t sell Samsung devices, but provides tech support and a bevy of experiences, such as free gigs, making a very clear statement about the area it wants to occupy in people’s lives. Create a space that people feel comfortable returning to and hanging out in, no strings attached, and the advocacy will follow.

As brands become extensions of the people that buy into them, it is natural that retail spaces should follow suit. One could even argue that this new customer behaviour walks hand-in-hand with the overnight phenomenon of the Pokémon Go game, which is seeing gamers aimlessly walk into retail spaces as they try to catch an animated character. According to the New York Post, a pizza bar in Queens, L’Inizio, has reported a 75% increase in footfall thanks to Pokémon Go.

We are now seeing a more mature take on the hybrid retail formula that has become commonplace over the past few years. The starting position seems to be: insert a coffee bar – extra points if it is an independent roaster – and the public will follow. However, the challenge now is to move beyond that arguably successful approach and create spaces that feel authentic for both your brand, and the people visiting them. By being flexible in the purpose of a physical store, retailers are giving customers more control in shaping their own experience, and creating a more memorable one in the process.

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