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The ‘discovery store’ is the new flagship

Ford“A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.”

Henry Ford

I know that everyone talks customer experience but really the innovators and disruptors left process improvement masquerading as customer experience long ago.

They think as innovators like Henry Ford did about the customer possibilities –  opening truly experiential physical brand touchpoints – to show the possibility about the future of transportation and defining what it means to be a mobility company.

Joining others such as Dyson, Google, Microsoft and Telstra who surpass what is to what could be possible, let’s look more closely at Ford’s new hub experience in New York.

The Ford Hub, at Westfield World Trade Centre in New York City is located within the Oculus, one of NYC’s busiest transit hubs. The interior features various interactive exhibits, both analogue and digital, with its centrepiece featuring a kinetic mobility sculpture that uses marbles to show multi-modal traffic patterns.

Similar to the technology we have witnessed at the Telstra Discovery Stores in Sydney and Melbourne, each visitor to the Ford Hub receives a ‘Ford Hub Card’ which activates the installations and saves their experience online.

At the entrance, a dual screen interactive map highlights popular destinations in NYC. Visitors can select a spot and a route is shown with other point of interests along it. To conclude, a screen showing recommendations for subway routes and bike sharing locations is displayed. Other exhibits include a human-powered electric energy harvester race to show how regenerative braking works, a balance controlled racing game and a VR experience offers a birds-eye view of NYC from the top of the Empire State building.

At the back of the Ford Hub, a seemingly made-for-Instagram wall acts as a mounted installation of 5000 Ford die cast vehicles, each illuminated with LED lights that react to visitors walking by. Ford has staffed the Hub with a team of mobility experts that will guide visitors through the space or field questions.

FordOculusNote here that the store associates are referred to as ‘mobility experts’. More and more we see retailers investing heavily into their store staff, not only employing your standard sales associate to be trained on the product’s features and benefits, but bringing in experts of that sector/industry to bring additional knowledge and education to the customer’s human to human experience. With so much accessibility to product features and benefits online, including the ever-growing power of peer reviews, bringing in experts of the industry a retailer can maximise the influence a bricks and mortar experience can have on a consumer and add to their pre-store research.

We witnessed this first hand in the Dyson Demo Store in London. In order to sell the new Dyson hairdryer, the store employed qualified hair stylists and hair dressers who could sell the product not through its technical features but through their first-hand experience, while even showcasing the product via their in-house salon. After all, who would you trust most to look after your hair, a qualified hair dresser or a store sales assistant?

Nothing is currently sold in the Ford Hub, however Ford intends to regularly update and change the contents of the space over time, since it is located in such a high-traffic location. The initial mix of exhibits will be monitored to see which are successful and which need tweaks or replacements.

As sectors become more saturated and more products are thrown at the market, even leading brands such as Ford, Telstra and Dyson continue to seek to strengthen their point of difference and influence in the marketplace. In order to compete with the masses, including the copy-cats, these brands are utilising the power of a bricks-and-mortar space to establish themselves as ‘the experts’.

FordFlagshipFlagship stores have always been a physical beacon for a retailer, to showcase their full offer and communicate their brand story; however today’s ‘discovery stores’ are taking this one step further. Discovery stores are less about the brand’s own products but put greater emphasis on the brand’s position as an innovator and leader in the field, therefore cementing a strong message in the mind of the consumer for when the brand launches new products. This strategy and positioning utilised by Tesla has meant that their launch of the Model 3 mass-market electric car had people camped outside of the Tesla stores and a reservation list of over 198,000 within 24 hours.

The Oculus location is the first of a series of Ford Hub locations the brand is looking to open. The next is slated for San Francisco.

As we witness numerous international entrants coming into Australia, now is the time to cement your positioning within the Australian market and position your brand as the leader of your field – focusing on the customer possibilities for your retail brand and the benefits of this strategic direction for your retail business.

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group and can be contacted on (02) 9460 2882 or Weston, co-author of this column, is part of Retail Doctor Group’s Retail Insights team and can be contacted via email at

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