#NRF2019: Essential Retail’s NYC Store Tour

During our time in NYC for 2019’s edition of NRF, Essential Retail took some time away from the Javits Center to pound the pavements of the Big Apple in search of the most innovative retail stores. Here’s our pick of the bunch with a Google Map for those of you who want to visit these stores next time you are in NYC:

Converse Soho

Converse’s flagship store in NYC’s Soho is a huge space with warehouse aesthetics giving its products plenty of room to breathe. One area of the store was dedicated to gaming encouraging customers to try out their video game basketball skills, with giant screens and a seated area.

Downstairs you step in the Converse Workshop where you are provided with endless fabrics and designs to create your own shoes, from same day printing to six-week fabric customisation.

Downstairs at the Converse flagship where you can customise your trainers
Downstairs at the Converse flagship where you can customise your trainers

Converse Flagship Store 560 Broadway, New York, NY 10012

The Dreamery by Casper

The online mattress market has boomed in recent years with a multitude of brands using innovative marketing methods and 100-night guarantees to encourage consumers to spend a fair bit of cash on something they’ve never even laid down on. But not everyone is comfortable with not trying out a mattress before purchasing and pop-up stores from the likes of Casper were introduced to reassure those customers. After a number of pop-ups – including one in London which Essential Retail visited a few years back – Casper has a number of permanent stores, including its Mercer Street Dreamery store.

Walking into store, the significant space has a number of what I can only describe as adult-sized wooden wendy houses dotted through the store in various pastel shades – perfect for Instagram snapping. Stepping inside you can sit and lay on Casper’s various mattress products, while elsewhere in the store are several tablet devices for browsing and purchasing.

But this store isn’t called The Dreamery for no reason, Casper has introduced pods at the back of the store where you can book a 45 minute ‘nap session’ online and pop-in for a bit of R&R. The website states: “Wind down in the lounge, change into PJs, and lie down in your own Casper Nook — a perfectly private, quiet pod with an outrageously comfortable bed.”

Sleeping pods at Casper's The Dreamery
Sleeping pods at Casper's The Dreamery

The Dreamery by Casper 196 Mercer St, New York, NY 10012

American Eagle Studio

At the tail end of 2017, US fashion retailer, American Eagle Outfitters, celebrated its 40th anniversary by unveiling a new concept store on Union Square. The American Eagle Studio is centred around customisation of jeans. Shoppers browse the seemingly endless aisles of denim, flanked with iPad minis which were being use as digital signage, and once purchased you are offered free personalisation to create a one-of-a-kind pair of jeans. Dotted throughout the store are sewing machines and more iPads which guide the shopper through the personalisation part of their shopping experience – 15 minutes later your jeans have been hand stitched and are ready to plaster all over social media.

Another worthwhile use of technology in this store is the digital concierge iPads in changing rooms, which offers customers an easy way to ask for help from store assistants. The iPad also features a bar code scanner where shoppers can scan their potential purchases for more information and to discover alternative options, as well as tot up their total basket spend as they decide which items they want to buy.

Intriguingly, the store also features a laundrette, where, according to the website, students can do their laundry for free and while they wait they can “hang out with friends or study in the studio bar and seating area and enjoy the view of Union Square”. And presumably spend a few dollars from their student loans on fashion while waiting for the spin cycle to finish.

Students can do their laundry for free at AEO's Studio store
Students can do their laundry for free at AEO's Studio store

American Eagle Studio 19 Union Square W, New York, NY 10003

Fujifilm Wonder Photo Shop

One of the most interesting ways smartphones have changed consumer habbits is the democratisation of photography, rendering the traditional camera defunct to everyone apart from hobbyists and professionals. In 2017, the world took 1.2 trillion digital photos. Let that figure sink in for a moment… And whether we’re snapping a smiling selfie in front of the Statue of Liberty or taking time to frame a scenic shot, or even quickly taking a digital record of our cloakroom ticket in case we lose it, photos have become distinctly important to our day-to-day lives.

Fujifilm understands this, but also sells cameras and wants to get people exciting about film again, or at least get people to print a couple of the thousands of photos sitting on our iPhones.

The Wonder Photo Shop
The Wonder Photo Shop

But going to print out a photo today isn’t a pleasurable experience: A digital kiosk in Boots or Snappy Snaps becomes a bland chore on the to-do list – far from that excitement you felt when your film was processed and you opened up the envelope to see your holiday photographs for the first time.

At Fujifilm’s Wonder Photo Shop there are the digital kiosks to aid you in printing out your photography, but this bulky technology is blended with pop-colours, wooden fittings and comfortable sofas. Large digital screens help to demonstrate hero products such as the Instax camera, while you can also book online to join workshops, such as introduction to film photography and scrapbooking or more advanced classes on using your camera.

As the store assistant told me, the store is all about “making film accessible”.

Fujifilm Wonder Photo Shop 176 5th Ave, New York, NY 10010

Amazon Books

Half traditional book store, half what felt almost like an Apple store, Amazon Books is the place where traditional paperback books sit on shelves next to the e-readers that almost caused their extinction.

This store mixes digital signage with soft wooden finishes and a Stumpton coffee shop on-site that perfectly pairs with the laid back feel of the store.

Amazon Books 7 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001

Also worth checking out is Amazon’s 4-Star store in Soho (72 Spring St, New York, NY 10012), which sells products rated four stars or more by Amazon customers meaning it merchandise only the newest and top-trending products.

Sephora 34th Street

Sephora’s largest store opened in early 2017, housing over 13,000 products and, unsurprisingly, an abundance of in-store technology.

A multitude of interactive digital screens seamlessly blend with Sephora’s black and white colour scheme and bright lighting. Tablet devices encourage customers to find their perfect foundation colour, linked to a skincare IQ test which measures moisture levels in the skin using a handheld machine similar to a thermometer. There was a number of augmented reality (AR) mirrors for shoppers to virtually try on looks if they didn’t want to make an appointment online with a beauty advisor for a physical makeover. 

There was also a prominent collaboration with Google. Sephora x Google integrates shopping and beauty video tutorials with the Google Home Hub. Customers can play around with the devices in store (and also purchase if they wish).

Meanwhile, towards the back of the store, a customisation area allows shoppers to engrave perfume bottles with a personalised message.

Sephora 112 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001

Nike House of Innovation 000

When industry experts are asked which store is a must-see before leaving the Big Apple, most will send you off to Nike’s House of Innovation 000 a stone’s throw away from The Rockefeller on 5th Avenue.

Nike's House of Innovation 000
Nike's House of Innovation 000

Walk into the futuristic warehouse space and this Nike store feels more like a cross between a museum and a laboratory than a shop. There are store assistants in white lab coats with plain white Nikes under glass showing you the stages of designing a pair of Nike shoes from the famous Nike tick through to the colour of the laces.

The entire ground floor is dedicated to customisation
The entire ground floor is dedicated to customisation

Next door in a glass room you can book onto a masterclass session to try out this process yourself and personalise your own pair of trainers while an abundance of people peer through the perspex to watch. At the time of our visit the Air Force 1 sneaker was available to customise, but this rotates regularly with different collections.

Meanwhile, the rest of this huge 68,000 sq ft of space is dedicated to shopping… with a dusting of technology to make the customer journey as seamless as possible. But the majority of this tech is behind the scenes. On closer inspection you see a few calls to action to download the Nike app, and this is when the magic happens. The store completely transforms when you have the app, providing you access to a locker to pick-up online orders, or the ability to scan a shoe to request your size so you can try it on and the store assistant can take clothing straight to the fitting room for you. And if you want to just quickly buy a pair of trainers, you simply purchase them on the app and walk out of the shop.

Unsurprisingly, this is one of Karen Voelker, global lead of Accenture’s Customer Innovation Network (ACIN), favourite stores in NYC. "I love the product customization but also the technology where you can scan the mannequins to understand what they are wearing and add it to your fitting room or purchase. It is a great showcase of the Nike products."

Nike House of Innovation 000 650 5th Ave, New York, NY 10019

Other worthwhile retail establishments to visit while in NYC:

Here’s a link to our Google Map with all the locations of the above stores. And for more insights, check out the hashtag #ERstoretourNYC on Twitter.