Swiss running brand On recently opened up a new flagship store in NYC’s NoHo district. It was designed by the Swedish architect and designer Andreas Bozarth Fornell (whose firm is called Specific Generic), and I think it’s a good example of the whole push toward “experiential retail.” Before Zappos there was a belief that nobody was prepared to buy shoes online. Surely shoes are something that you need to try on to make sure that they fit properly. But then Zappos and Tony Hsieh came along and decided to offer free returns so that you could just order a few different sizes to try on at home and return the ones that don’t fit. And then just like magic, we’re now living in a world where I myself couldn’t tell you the last time I bought a pair of shoes offline.
What is obvious at this point is that people will buy pretty much anything online — everything from boats and real estate to shoes and tires — and so, in many cases, the physical retail experience needs to be exactly that — an experience. Something special. What On has done with their flagship store in NYC is try and create a space that, among other things, tells their brand story, acts as a hub for the local running community, and offers up a unique technological experience that is likely pretty difficult to replicate online. One of the key features is a “magic wall” that analyses your technique and scans your feet as you run past it (pictured below). The invisible foot scanner is supposed to help you find the perfect shoe size, accurate to within 1.25mm.
If you’re a serious runner, I could imagine this being a pretty appealing in-store experience. (And if you’re not a runner, I guess you could just take a selfie in front of the magic wall. People seem to like pink walls). Whatever the case may be, I think On has done a great job trying to rethink the retail experience around its brand story and philosophy. But it leads me to a bunch of questions. Which brands and/or products are suitable for a new retail experience? (Does toilet paper, for example, want a new high-tech warehouse space in NoHo?) Assuming we continue down this path toward experiences, does this ultimately lead to less retail space per capita? Probably. And if we’re destined for less space, what does that ultimately mean for the ground floor experience of our cities? What should these spaces become? How does street life evolve?
Cities aren’t going anywhere. But change is inevitable.