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The Big Apple: What are they doing better than us?

In June, the PatelMiller team descended on New York to look for retail inspiration. As part of this trip we took a day to explore some of the most compelling stores in Manhattan. New York is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic retail areas in the world, we were able to learn a lot about how businesses are enhancing their brand image and driving sales by creating stores with a difference, below is a summary of what we found.

Highly skilled and passionate colleagues

It is quite a cliché to mention, but customer service does tend to be of a higher standard in the USA. We were impressed with members of staff who were eager to go beyond what is normally expected of an employee. These colleagues weren’t just there to stock shelves, work the checkout etc. they were true ambassadors who knew the brand innately and were passionate proponents of the business, extolling the virtues of the company they worked for. Eyewear retailer Warby Parker was an excellent example of this, with lots of staff patrolling the floor armed with extensive brand knowledge and iPads ready to assist prospective customers.

Exciting use of technology and experiential stores

New York stores aren’t all about selling. There were some stores which are a destination within themselves because of the technology used within and the opportunity to experience novel concepts. The Samsung 837 store was a great example, allowing ‘customers’ (the store doesn’t actually sell anything) to experience virtual reality skiing and surfing. The upstairs featured a café area where anyone in the store could get a complementary coffee or tea. Continuing the high-tech trend, we were also captivated with the Rebecca Minkoff store which had interactive fitting room mirrors, which customers could use to order garments, summon assistance, or even change the lighting within the fitting room to different presets such as ‘Soho Sunset’ or ‘Manhattan Morning’.

Impressive architecture

Many stores, particularly those which were flagships, were remarkably well presented in impressive spaces. Though London itself has no shortage of beautiful architecture we were quite stunned by the quality of buildings which were being utilised for retail. Old tenement style buildings had been tastefully repurposed, retaining many of the original elements. The Nike Soho store, set over 5 floors, used exposed brickwork and raw metal beams to great effect. The store felt far more bespoke and idiosyncratic than those in the UK which are often engineered into generic designs and formats. Given the property prices in Manhattan and the cavernous nature of some of these stores, the costs of leases must be an onerous burden on retailers operating there.

In a more general sense, what was quite noticeable was just the sheer amount of exciting and engaging retail. The bar has been set quite high in terms of quality and this is manifested across the entirety of Manhattan. With such a large target market in a small area and stiff competition from boutiques, cool independents, right up to multinational mega-brands, each retailer needs to have an enticing store profile and slick operations. Almost without exception all the stores we visited were well staffed, immaculately presented with excellent visual merchandising, and often commanding alluring physical spaces as mentioned above.

It’s hard to imagine another city with this density of high quality retail stores...

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