By Katharine Schwab - an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.
The sneaker giant has an ambitious new goal: Woo people who hate shopping IRL.
Shopping in a physical store is soul-sucking: You have to fight through the crowd to find the stuff you want, if it’s even there. Then there’s a line at the fitting room, and another line to check out. By the time you leave, you’re disgruntled–and wondering why you didn’t just go online.
Nike’s new flagship store in New York City aims to change all that by making shopping in a physical store as convenient as shopping online. The six-floor, 68,000-square-foot store, which opens its doors today, will surely attract tons of tourists and Nike fans who want to experience the building’s two customization studios, one-on-one shoe consultation, and the sneaker center, which has displays showing how shoes are designed, prototyped, and built. But the store was also designed for those of us who prize convenience above all else.
Let’s say you need to pick up a new pair of running shoes, but you want to try on several styles before you buy, so shopping online doesn’t make a lot of sense. At the flagship store’s “Speed Shop,” you can reserve whichever shoes you want to try online, and then when you arrive at the store you can head straight to a set of lockers. One of them will have your name on it, and you can unlock it using your phone. The shoes you want to try will be inside. After you’ve decided which pair is right, you can use your phone to check out without ever having to stand in a line. You can be in and out of the store in minutes.
The Speed Shop, which is located in the store’s basement, even has its own separate entrance to make it more convenient. “You don’t have to go through the whole carnival ride,” says Andy Thaemert, a senior creative director at Nike who heads up global store design. It’s a clever way to use technology to make real-life shopping more seamless.
According to John Hoke, Nike’s Chief Design Officer, the future of retail will be a mix between the digital and the physical. That idea is also reflected in the merchandise that’s stocked in the Speed Shop: Nike staff changes what’s on the floor based on what items are selling best online in the zip code. “Imagine the website, live,” Hoke says. “The future of retail is going to be less fixed, more fluid, and hyper-responsive to consumer trends and needs.”
[Photo: Nike]The key to the Speed Shop is the Nike app’s retail mode, which pops up when the app recognizes that you’ve entered a retail store. Retail mode allows customers to request items, unlock their locker, and check out in-store. “You’ll have a whole other layer,” Hoke says. “There’s a plural reality of the physical space and digital space.”
The app unlocks convenience elsewhere in the store as well: If you’re shopping on one of the apparel-focused floors and you see a mannequin with a vest you really like, you no longer need to hunt for it elsewhere on the floor. Instead, you can scan a QR code next to the mannequin, and every piece of clothing in the look will show up on your phone. Then, you can request whichever ones you want to be sent to a fitting room, in your size. You can also scan any other product in the store and request it to be added to your room.
The building’s exterior was designed by the architecture firm CallisonRTKL, while Heintges handled the interiors. Nike even wanted the store’s dressing rooms to feel personalized–each room has three light settings that you can adjust to see how your outfit will look at your candlelit yoga class, at the gym, or in natural light. But the light is also tailored to make Nike’s products look good, and the design teams will adjust the colors of apparel so they look especially flattering at these three light levels.
On the sneaker-dominated floor, you can scan shoes to learn more about them, and request that a store associate bring you a particular shoe in your size entirely through the app.
Best of all, when you’ve decided what to buy, you don’t need to stand in line. You can check out in the Nike app using the same payment methods that you’d have for the online store. Because the Nike team found that people were sometimes confused about this process, they created small stations on each floor that are designated as Nike self-checkout points. Each of these has a place for shoppers to leave hangers and to grab a bag for their purchases.
But there is a catch. For all these conveniences to work, you have to be a Nike member (which is free), have the Nike app, and allow it to track your location. That’s because the company wants the app to be able to recognize you the second you walk into a store and send you notifications when you’re nearby.
That’s a lot of access to give a sneaker company about your whereabouts. A few days after I’d set up my account, my iPhone sent me a follow-up reminder that Nike was still constantly tracking my location, and verifying that was something I really wanted. Now that I’ve experienced the store, I’ll be adjusting my settings so that Nike only gets access to my location when I open the app. All of the features will still work with this setting.
Data is undoubtedly part of the future of retail, as companies like Nike try to become more regular parts of their consumers’ lives. The company is already working on building up its direct relationship with consumers, partially through its suite of apps and partially through increasingly experimental retail experiences. For shoppers who love the brand and want to tap into every experience it has to offer, sharing more data with Nike is likely worth it. For people who hate shopping in stores, it might be a no-brainer to have your phone magically unlock a greater level of convenience than you could get elsewhere.
“We want to engage with you. We want a relationship with you,” Hoke says. “And we want it to go way beyond a store.”