Big brands, big ideas and big basketball courts in the Big Apple – Qudini’s Commercial Director gives us the scoop on New York’s world-renowned retail scene.
Ten days in New York may be enough time to visit the city’s most appealing tourist destinations, but Qudini’s Commercial Director, Raj Sangha, had his sights set on an even bigger prize – visiting all the destination stores on the Big Apple’s infamous retail scene.
Raj is unsurprisingly exhausted. Since returning from the Big Apple, he’s been on non-stop calls with retailers from all over the world – Australia and New Zealand, the Middle East, Russia and Latin America.
But when I ask him about his trip, a wave of energy rushes through him as he shows me some snaps on his phone.
In between meetings with several New York based retailers, Raj had rushed out to visit the big brands and department stores on Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue, and to the boho-chic retailers that dominate SoHo.
“New York retailers are going all out on in-store experiences,” says Raj. “Almost all the stores I visited were experience-driven, and what they are achieving is incredible!”
Younger crowds are engaging with experiential approaches
One of the biggest challenges facing retailers to date is appealing to fickle, fast-moving and, in some cases, downright unpredictable youth generations – yet Raj saw several notable brands drawing swaths of younger crowds in-store.
“There was an incredibly strong youth culture in some of the stores I visited,” he says, mentioning Nike’s six floor, 68,000-square-foot “House of Innovation 000” on Fifth Avenue.
“They have a basketball court in-store,” says Raj, brimming with excitement. “Customers can put Nike basketball shoes to the test right then and there – and they were. And since the court was right in the centre of the store, everyone was watching and engaged.”
Puma’s new flagship store, also on Fifth Avenue, was a big hit with younger consumers, he points out.
“Puma had F1 racing simulators, and soccer simulators where you can test out their boots, and large screen TVs where you can play the latest NBA game.”
Raj was also impressed by the store’s tech innovation, with digital screens throughout the space that enabled customers to browse (and even customise) products, and see what clothes look like in different colours or styles with iMirror.
Retailers are putting their customers first in exciting new ways
Petco might not be one of the first brands that springs to mind when talking New York retail destinations, but the pet store brand is miles ahead when it comes to creating innovative in-store experiences.
The flagship store just opposite Union Square Park has a deli counter for dogs, a machine that lets you create personalised name tags for your pets and an in-store adoption area as part of Petco Foundation charity.
“Petco prove that with a little ingenuity and creativity, you can create really compelling in-store experiences that engage your consumers on multiple fronts,” he says. “You just have to understand who they are first.”
Online-turned-in-store retailer Amazon also made it onto Raj’s list, visiting one of the two Amazon Books stores in Manhattan.
“Amazon was founded on its ability to offer products at a discount rate through its website, and this is an element that they’ve brought into their stores. All price tags are digital and fluctuate based on online pricing.”
“This is a clever approach,” says Raj. “They not only assure customers are getting the same price they would pay through their website, but they also have the option to do things like flash sales.”
Sustainability can be showcased in an engaging way
Late last year, billion dollar eco-trainers brand, Allbirds, opened a flagship store in New York’s trendy SoHo suburb.
While ridiculously comfortable, Allbirds’ shoes are also made from sustainable materials – wool, wood, recycled bottles, cardboard and castor bean oil, to name just a few.
Besides each product display, there are signs showcasing what the product is made out of with an explanation of how the materials were sourced, says Raj.
“This immediately establishes trust in the eyes of the consumer, as it shows they’re committed to the same cause – to save the environment,” he says.
“Transparency is something that’s apparent throughout the store, from its uncluttered and minimalistic design to all its stock being displayed in plain sight.”
Department stores lead the way with incredible visual displays
A number of high-profile department stores in New York have gone into administration as of late (Barneys New York and Lord & Taylor), yet luxury department stores Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom are proving the skeptics wrong with engaging, immersive and highly impressive in-store experiences.
“Neiman Marcus took visual displays to an entirely new level,” says Raj. “Everything in the store was big, bold and colourful.”
“They had futuristic-looking male grooming stations, and nail bars, and VIP sections that made your living room look like a third-rate motel.”
“There were bars and restaurants, and a larger-than-life hot air balloon display that hung from the ceiling. Everything was engaging and expressive.”
Department store Nordstrom also offered a captivating experience, from milkshake counters and coffee bars, to places to pick up clothing alterations or to charge your mobile phones, Raj highlighted.
Human interaction: the missing piece to New York’s retail puzzle
While most of the stores Raj visited were impressive, engaging and industry-leading in their approach, he was adamant that the customer journey could be improved in a number of ways.
“Out of all the stores I visited, not once did I come across a concierge or meeter-greeter,” he said.
“In today’s digital age, it’s tempting to let customers wonder about your store and interact with your products and brand at their own pace without being interrupted by your store associates.”
“But this doesn’t always work. For instance, if you have customers coming into store for premium services or appointments, or if someone is looking for a particular product or service, there needs to be someone helping them at the front of the store.”
There’s also considerable evidence to prove people want advice and support from store associates with expert product knowledge, says Raj.