Why new store concepts like Showfields and Naked in New York City may represent the future of physical retail experiences

Showfields Naked physical retail story 4x3Alyssa Powell/Business Insider

  • Contrary to the tumbleweeds occupying your local mall, physical retail isn't dead. Instead, it's evolving to meet the needs and expectations of shoppers who want unique and creative interactions with retail brands.
  • Showfields and Naked, two New York City retail experiences, challenge traditional stores in design, operations, and the types of brands you can shop.
  • By using these new physical concepts, digitally native brands can save time and money and focus on creating interactive, meaningful relationships with shoppers.

The mall I grew up frequenting feels more and more like a ghost town every time I go back to visit. Other than the fact that it appeared in "Back to the Future" and played host to DeLorean time travel experiments, there's little there to make your eyes light up. A similar pattern of eerily quiet spaces across the country has many wondering: Is physical retail dead?

In the golden era of digitally native brands and online shopping holidays like Prime Day and Cyber Week where you can get any product you want with an internet connection and a credit card, it's easy to settle comfortably into the conclusion that yes, physical retail is cancelled, obsolete, "undergoing a restructuring."

showfields naked physical retail 2Showfields

But online shoppers do still enjoy shopping in person and brands believe physical shops can work hand-in-hand with online storefronts to create useful and meaningful customer experiences.

There are a variety of ways physical retail can support online retail, such as serving as a free pick-up point for online orders or a convenient return center. For digitally native brands specifically, physical retail is an important channel to attract new customers and engage loyal fans.

Some of these online startups take the pop-up route, while others settle into permanent fixtures of the neighborhood. Another option is to partner with the biggest big-box retailers of the industry, as many small startups have done with Target. Out of all these strategies, one of the most interesting and exciting today is the part museum, part playground-like store that curates multiple direct-to-consumer brands under one roof.

Showfields and Naked, both located in New York City, are two such examples of the refreshing, innovative physical retail concepts that online brands are experimenting with. They show the potential of a physical retail space to be more than a stale storefront.

Retail spaces like Showfields and Naked challenge traditional store designs and operations

Instead of featuring a fixed lineup of brands, these stores offer continually rotating rosters. The store you visit today may look and feel very different a few months from now because a brand never stays for long. These limited-time appearances inject a bit of urgency into the shopping experience - if you care about staying on top of cool new brands, you'd better visit soon because you'll never know when the next one has moved in.

In Showfields, a brand is one of many stacked through multiple floors. Navigating the building can feel like you're walking through a maze, and that's the point. There's the urgency of a limited time window, but once you've made it in the store, you're obliged to wander and, ideally, stumble into a wondrous discovery.

Over the course of 30 minutes, you can learn about products in categories as diverse as skincare, pets, mattresses, and oral health. And that's just the first floor. If you have any questions, ask one of the employees, who are trained to tell you anything and everything about every brand you see.

Brands that have featured at Showfields include electric toothbrush maker Quip, smart mattress maker Eight, and travel bag specialist Paravel. Each brand is like a diorama, presenting its essence in a clear and concise form. For example, it's only when a Quip toothbrush is set on a mock bathroom sink does its sleek design become more apparent. The store as a whole is like a tasting menu where you sample multiple products and emerge feeling pleasantly full.

showfields naked physical retail 4

How the brand benefits: time and money saved means more opportunity for creativity

It's the same refrain you hear when you're hunting for your own living space: location, location, location. Scouting a location - in an area with good foot traffic, with enough square footage to fit your needs - takes time. So does hiring and training employees to run the store. Showfields and Naked take care of these hurdles that often cause headaches for companies.

They're also less expensive. A 1,500 square-foot space in Manhattan's popular SoHo neighborhood, where many digitally native brands often first plant their physical presence, can cost up to $25,000 a month, according to real estate platform Agorafy. Since Showfields and Naked already own real estate, in high-traffic areas no less, brands can save a lot of money.

Naked Retail Group cofounder Justin Kerzner says that brands spend half the amount of money they would've on a traditional standalone retail experience. "Our fees encompass the entirety of the retail experience and are inclusive of all design, build, and staffing needs. Due to this, Naked['s] fees are much more realistic for small DTC brands," he says.

The average monthly membership at Showfields is $10,000. This fee includes staffing, inventory management, events, a proprietary technology suite, and as Showfields cofounder Katie Hunt calls it, the unquantifiable "power of being part of one of the most innovative communities of brands and founders from around the world."

showfields naked physical retail 3Naked

How the customer benefits: fun, interactive, and convenient experiences bring them closer to up-and-coming brands

In Naked's Nolita North store, customers explore luxurious goods like cashmere sweaters from Nakedcashmere, among other "elevated brands within a comfortable environment that feels like home." Conversely, the South store is "more raw," featuring bold and minimalistic products such as Courant's wireless charging accessories. The thematic distinctions clarify each brand's identity and allow potential customers to better understand the brand in a larger context.

Through September 2019, Showfields has been home to an interactive experience called House of Showfields, which sold over 25,000 tickets. The immersive, beautiful, and highly Instagrammable journey takes participants through a hands-on tour that could leave a significant imprint in their minds - and their wallets. Stops along the way include mini spa-like treatments with vegan skin-care brand Nuria and a preview of early-release hardcovers in Book of the Month's reading room.

The opportunity to interact physically with products is an invaluable part of getting a potential customer to make the purchase. According to Dr. Matt Johnson, a researcher who focuses on the neuroscience of consumer behavior, "When we interact with something, it provides a boost to 'encoding' - the process by which the brain converts experiences into memories. We're much more likely to remember a package we interact with, as opposed to a package we simply looked at."

So, while online shopping works wonders for speed and convenience, it might take an offline meeting to truly convince a shopper to bite the bullet.

The impact on the retail world at large is clear

If these two stores have shown us anything, it's that most of the shopping experiences we have are, to put it bluntly, boring. Shoppers don't need be wowed every single time they go shopping, but if a brand hopes to leave a lasting memory on a customer, it should invest in more creative experiences like the ones that Showfields and Naked offer.

The consumer retail world is only getting more crowded, which means it's increasingly difficult for brands to stand out. Hunt say, "The thing a convenience economy does not do well is giving the consumer room to discover new brands, ideas, communities and experiences." Participating in a curated store experience is just one of many strategies a startup can consider for their physical presence in this new convenience economy.

Doing so puts them directly in the company of other up-and-coming, like-minded brands, and in front of customers' and fans' eyes, without the financial and logistical barriers of traditional physical retail.

Learn more about the brands mentioned in this article:

Shop Book of the Month

Shop Courant

Shop Eight Read more about Eight

Shop Nakedcashmere

Shop Nuria Read more about Nuria

Shop Paravel Read more about Paravel

Shop Quip Read more about Quip

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