2017 saw retailers enter a year of innovation as they rethought customer loyalty, the omnichannel experience, data personalization, and even the brick-and-mortar store itself. Innovation in the latter category has gone so far off the farm that retail analysts may have to jettison the “revenue per square foot” metric in favor of some new measure of customer engagement tied to revenue. The latest innovation: A new Samsung flagship store in New York City that isn’t trying to sell you anything—the company just wants you to enjoy yourself.
By Rick Ferguson
We first reported on this trend earlier this year, when we wrote about the new Nordstrom concept store open in Los Angeles. That smaller-footprint store trades in-store inventory for personal shopping assistants and a full bar, among other perks designed to heighten and personalize the shopping experience.
Now Samsung is joining the “non-store store” game with the debut of Samsung 837, the electronics manufacturer’s new 40,000 square-foot flagship store in New York City. The store features tables stacked with Samsung phones, tablets, and other devices, similar to what you might find in an Apple store; but unlike the Apple store, the Samsung associates inside aren’t trying to sell you anything. Instead, they’re there to curate your experience—one that you’ll hopefully find so enjoyable that you’ll post about it on social media.
The store is built around multi-media installations that will change each season, and which currently include such installations as virtual-reality rides, a movie theater, a demo kitchen, an art gallery, a multimedia studio, a café, a glass DJ booth, and “selfie stations.” When visitors enter the store, they can pick up a Galaxy tablet that helps them self-explore the installations and, if they’re so inclined, purchase Samsung products directly through the tablet’s app. Associates, meanwhile, are hired not based on their ability to push Samsung products, but rather for their ability to get visitors pumped about their Samsung experience. Money quote from Business Insider:
“Rather than looking for traditional sales skills, [Samsung VP Zach] Overton wants candidates who are passionate about technology and culture. It doesn't matter if they love fashion, cooking, basketball, or music, they just need to be so excited about their passion that visitors will become excited too. ‘The first question I usually ask when I'm interviewing someone is “What do you do on the weekends? What do you do in your downtime? Are you a DJ? Are you a fashion designer? Are you a cook?”’ Overton said. ‘It's really about finding people that are authentically impassioned about technology ... and have other cultural interests as well.’”
The “un-store” concept may be a reaction against the rise of e-commerce in general, and Amazon in particular. Retailers are also recognizing, however, that they’re not just competing against Amazon; they’re also competing against the Millennial lifestyle, which favors spending free time on experiences rather than browsing mall stores. As Fast Company points out, other retailers are turning their stores into experience centers:
“Samsung 837 more closely aligns with the 535,000-square-foot experience center in Memphis that was built by Bass Pro, an outdoor sporting goods company. Complete with a bowling alley, an alligator swamp, and a hotel, the pyramid-shaped palace places the focus on entertaining customers. ‘People try the product and have an experience that brings it to life,’ Paul Martin, the managing director of consultancy KPMG Boxwood, told the Financial Times. ‘The conversion rates [the number of visitors who buy something] with this in-store experience are much higher, and shoppers’ basket sizes are also a lot bigger.’”
One other significant potential for the new generation of “un-stores”: The potential to leverage them as meeting places for elite customers. In the old model of loyalty marketing, retailers largely defaulted to points-per-dollar or discount offers, and limited soft benefits to such tired elements as more liberal returns, free gift wrap, or free alterations. In the new loyalty model, retailers can lavish VIP customers with experiences that make them feel like true insiders—and build relationships with them that competitors will be hard-pressed to poach.
Samsung, for example, plans to invite Galaxy device owners to an Oscar-viewing party, which is a great start. The un-store’s real potential lies not only in its ability to deliver the same experience to every visitor, but also in its ability to deliver a differentiated, personalized experience to your best customers.
Rick Ferguson is Editor in Chief of the Wise Marketer Group and a Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional (CLMP).