Experiencing NYC’s best in retail – Australians tour Glossier, Tiffany’s, Nike

(Source: Supplied.)
(Source: Supplied.)

We’ve all heard the phrase, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” in reference to New York City. While that certainly relates to entrepreneurs and celebrities, it definitely applies to retailers and their physical store presence. 

There is no better audience on which to test an in-store shopping experience than the varied individuals that make up the melting pot of this city. 

“In a market like New York, specifically Manhattan, where the opportunity cost and the stakes that you’re playing for are so high, I think it creates a heightened imperative and the perfect environment to test things out – to be creative and bold when it comes to doing things differently,” said Matthew Horn, GM of customer and digital at Country Road Group, and one of the leaders of the tour.

AKQA, a design and innovation company known for curating brand experiences for the likes of Nike and Rolls-Royce, in partnership with leading commerce platform Shopify, led some of retail’s brightest minds on a tour of stores that are disrupting the industry.

The tour was led by AKQA’s Australian division in partnership with its New York studio and was designed to explore how New York City, one of the world’s leading shopping cities, creates unforgettable in-store experiences.

“In many senses, you have all the preconditions for a successful retail outcome in this city if the idea is a good one and effectively executed. With so many people in New York, it makes for a very dense shopping environment.”

This test-and-learn mentality means that New York is ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation in retail. 

“I think there was a long period where it was very much focused on online consumer-facing technology, but when you look at a market as sophisticated and mature as New York is, it is interesting to see that the focus is shifting to [how] tech changes the online customer experience – either directly in-store or [in creating] that seamlessness for the associates behind the scenes. I think that was the great thing about today’s excursions – seeing the different ways you [as a retailer] can execute on that,” Horn elaborated. 

Exploring the best of retail New York City has to offer

The day began in SoHo, where attendees were shown around Gen Z’s favourite store, Glossier. Led by the brand’s ‘showroom editors’, the term it uses for its sales associates, attendees were given detailed explanations of the brand’s products, from Boy Brow to Cloud Paint.  

From there, attendees visited one of New York’s most unique grocery shops, Pop Up Grocer, a unique mix between a bodega and a Pinterest board. The shop stocks a variety of food and lifestyle goods, with an impressive assortment of LGBTQIA+, Bipoc, and women-owned brands.

Speaking of food, the next stop on the retail tour was at Genesis House

Located in the heart of the Meatpacking District, Genesis House is a Michelin-starred Korean restaurant, tea room, library and luxury car showroom, which provides a premium experience blending socialising, cuisine, and shopping in one aesthetically pleasing locale.  

After this, the group drove uptown to one of the most well-known jewellery stores in the world, Tiffany’s, specifically the brand’s newly reopened landmark store which merges tradition with modernity. 

On the tour of the iconic shop, the group witnessed firsthand how Tiffany’s iconic aesthetics are seamlessly complemented by contemporary, elevated touches, such as Tiffany’s busy and ever-booked Blue Box Cafe, that reinvigorate the brand and transform the store into a must-see destination.

The retail tour ended a few blocks away from Tiffany’s at Nike’s House of Innovation, a groundbreaking retail space offering interactive and customisable shopping experiences. 

Exploring the six-floor store dedicated to all things streetwear, athleisure, athletic apparel, and, of course, sneaker culture, the tour saw QR codes placed throughout the space to provide extra product details as well as a customisable sneaker station. This reflects the mix of both personal and tech-based features and experiences in the store. 

While the experiences may differ – from interactive floors where visitors can customise their kicks, to Gen Z-friendly shops complete with selfie walls, to fine-dining experiences – these spaces all strike that hard-to-achieve balance of being places to shop as well as places to marvel in and explore.

Lessons learned

While Australia is certainly no slouch when it comes to creating aesthetically pleasing store designs, Horn admitted that the country is a bit behind when it comes to experimentation in the retail space. 

He said it was interesting to see how New York stores, and American retailers in general, are more willing to experiment with unique concepts and store experiences to see what works and what doesn’t work with their consumer base.

“That attitude of experimentation and the courage that they [American brands] show when it comes reminds me of tech companies in a lot of ways. They marry that [sense of experimentation and confidence] up with, ‘We’re going to give it a red hot go,’ and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But if it doesn’t work, that’s fine as well because I think failure itself is a really valuable thing. They’re [American brands] never willing to be left wondering if something didn’t work because they didn’t resource it properly and they didn’t make some really big bets – when they test and learn, they do both.”

Even just 10 years ago, Horn noted that retailers had a finite number of options they could offer with the e-commerce experience, both in terms of technical ability and what consumers were open to. 

Now, however, “as technologies evolve and consumers across the world have become much more digitally mature and confident, the challenge for a retailer is to think about what to prioritise in a tech roadmap to deliver better and more elevated brand experiences both online and offline,” Horn said.

As Hannah Udina, Shopify’s head of partnerships for Australia and New Zealand, who partnered on the tour, said: “The in-store experience has the power to make or break a customer’s engagement and loyalty. Just as retailers need to provide a seamless and engaging online experience, brands’ physical storefronts also need to captivate customers with one-of-a-kind experiences that leverage in-person interactions.

“Shopify invests a lot in driving the technology to enable such in-store experiences and empowering retailers to create a true omnichannel experience, but this truly comes to life when Shopify partners like AKQA weave their skill into the mix.”

Of all the stores on the tour, Suzanne Croxford, AKQA’s executive partner of retail and commerce, felt that Glossier offered the ideal mix between personalised human touch and efficient technological assistance, from its carefully curated ratio of guests (customers) to editors (sales associates) in-store, to its use of hand-held point-of-sale systems, powered by Shopify. A touch of genuineness was the cherry on top. 

“Everyone always assumes that personalisation is only for digital, whereas they [Glossier] are focused on creating that more connected experience, both in-store and online,” Croxford said. 

“Even though all the editors are carrying point-of-sale systems powered by Shopify, and they’re able to add things to your basket and complete transactions with you, technology is still not at the forefront. It’s there to enable the experience and to enable them [the associate] to have a great conversation with you, allow you to play with the product and experiment. [It’s] like being in a girlfriend’s bedroom and just being able to play with the product and have a little fun,” she said.

“You’re not having to walk around the store and collect products which detract from the experience.” 

Once you’re done shopping, Croxford added, “you can sit in a beautiful lounge and then get everything packaged up for you and off you go. So seamless.”