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NRF16 – NYC Store Tour

posted: 5 February, 2016

In the latest part of our NRF16 digest we explore one of the most popular sessions at Retail’s Big Show – the Retail Design Institute’s (RDI) NYC 2016 Virtual Store Tour.

Chaired by the RDI’s impressive ‎International President, James Farnell, the session took the audience through a curated tour of the latest retail concepts dotted around the city, and attempted to answer the question ‘what does it take to create memorable store experiences today?’.

For Farnell the ultimate differentiator is experience, and in what he termed a ‘Retail Safari’, some thirty-four retailers were identified which represent five significant new trends – stores experiences that are: enriched, personal, social, sensory, or disruptive.

Being sidewalk-blocking out-of-towners, we took it upon ourselves to don the metaphorical pith helmet, head off into SoHo and Midtown, and get stuck into a little safari first-hand. With a well-earned tip of the hat to the RDI, here’s how we got on…


“A growing appetite for retail with a more culturally enriching, harder-to-come-by, experiential accent. Customers want an authentic story – they are searching for meaning and greater depth to brands and a curated product selection.”

TOMS Store, Soho


Dropping into TOMS on Elizabeth Street, you’d be forgiven for walking past the stools and high table, up to the distressed wooden counter and ordering a latte, thinking this was another funky little independent coffee shop. You’d be wrong and you’d be right at the same time – it’s not a coffee shop, but you’ll still get your latte. Across the low-ceilinged, lovingly-furnished store stands the barista bar, mingling the smell of coffee with pine and varnish to create an enormously inviting atmosphere. This was reflected by the welcoming staff who couldn’t be more eager to share the TOMS story, what it stands for, and the addition of a coffee machine just makes you want to stay there all the longer.

And truth be told, it’s a very simple model – called ‘One for One’, there’s a direct correlation between the goods you buy and the good TOMS does. You buy a pair of shoes; they give a pair to an impoverished child. You buy a handbag; they supply a safe birthing kit to an expectant mother in the developing world. Buy spectacles and they’ll fund vision-saving treatment.

When you are looking to purchase a bag of coffee, and you know each bag of TOMS Roasting Co. coffee provides not only 140 litres of safe water (a week’s supply) to a person in need, but also helps support the producers’ heath, education, and economic opportunities, you really have a compelling, enriched retail experience.


“To create a meaningful relationship with your customer we need to engage with them on a personal level – making your offer feel tailor made for each of them. Brands are transforming their stores from selling spaces into creative hubs.”

Nixon, Soho

Nixon, SoHo

Nixon, the California-based wristwatch manufacturer and retailer, have action sports written through their DNA. Unlike many of their traditional competitors, Nixon encourages you to get hands-on with their (awesome) products and participate in its construction. Choose your case, dial, strap (how about a piece of Keith Richards’ jacket?), and personalise the caseback art… all carried-out by their in-store master technician, Perry.

Their store looks fantastic, the products are great, the staff couldn’t have been friendlier (yes, that’s you in the picture), but the real difference was how we were taken into Nixon’s world to create something that’s genuinely one-of-a-kind. A must see.


“The physical store remains a key for experiential, communal brand experiences – spurring sales across other channels. Offering a localised experience for staff and customers providing a sense of ownership and belonging in the neighbourhood.”

Microsoft, Fifth Avenue

Microsoft, Midtown

Microsoft’s new flagship store on Fifth Avenue aims to showcase the company’s software products and devices for a global audience, and marks a concerted push to become a genuine consumer brand.

Yes, the aesthetic is clearly inspired by Apple, and yes, you are encouraged to physically get “hands on” with the various (untethered) devices, but this isn’t your typical Microsoft store…

What marks this out as different is the sense of community and spirit of collaboration. Microsoft provides the venue, resources and tools to empower people to make big changes and enhance people’s lives through technology.

“Answer Desks” are located throughout the store, offering assistance with any piece of Windows hardware, regardless of where you bought it, whilst the ‘Theater’ (featuring two colossal screens) are used for educational workshops, product training, and community events.

What’s more, it appears to be working… “Normally, when we open a flagship store, we get a 43 percent boost in online sales from that region. In New York it was 68 percent”, said Chris Dieringer, Technology Director of Microsoft Retail.


“Focused towards tangible, real experiences and engaging your senses. These stores are opportunities to feel the brand as much as you see it. Taking the experience from selling to seduction.”

Jay Kos, Soho

Jay Kos, Nolita

Menswear designer and eponymous retailer, Jay Kos may very well be the best kept secret among gentleman in New York. This treasure trove reputedly counts Diddy and Andre 3000 among its well-heeled customers, drawn to the high-quality fabrics, and the boldest colours and patterns.

It’s a “by appointment” kind of place, though “walk-ins with taste” are welcome. When you see the store’s custom-designed kitchen where snacks are prepared for customers as they peruse the astrakhan-fur dinner jackets and alligator-leather vests, you’ll understand this multi-sensory experience can’t be spread too thin.


“Seeking the attention of customers by disrupting their journey. Offering shoppers unexpected delight through powerful digital signage, an engaging scent, contrasting colour, humour or bold architectural forms – to be memorable.”

Ray-Ban, Soho

Ray-Ban, Soho

Ray-Ban’s first, and recently-opened, flagship store in SoHo certainly catches the eye with its fluorescent window displays. However, what really makes this store stand out is its use of interactive technology to bring the experience alive.

Grab yourself some shades, get yourself in front of one of the ‘Magic Mirrors’ stationed around the store, and pose until your heart’s content. Once you’re done, the mirror spits out a polaroid-style photo comparing the various styles… which is rather helpful if your eyesight is as impaired as your intrepid reporter! Whilst this isn’t revolutionary, the ease at which you can share the fun and spread the word with your friends online or in person just might be!

One to watch? Opening soon in the heart of the Meatpacking District, Samsung 837 sounds like it’ll be pretty special as it places Samsung products at the heart of passions like cooking, film, art, music, and fitness. Hopefully we’ll be taking it in at #nrf17…

To see all our photos from NRF and NYC, visit ThisIsRetail on Pinterest.