Space has become such a commodity within retail that when brands take over a sizeable amount of prime real estate without transforming them into the traditional shop floor, we’re the first in line to see what’s going on and how it mirrors some of the ideas we have daily within the walls of our office.
Recently, both Samsung and Microsoft launched their own “experience centres”, with Samsung KX and Microsoft Oxford Circus opening their doors within weeks of each other. Two of the first to see how each brand approached the retail space were our Client Service Director, Dawn Nottley, and Creative Director, Matt Rowland.
The first impression of Samsung KX from both Dawn and Matt is one of awe; they fell in love with the location and the sheer scale of everything.
Matt: “From an architectural point of view, it’s an absolute win. They’ve got these two massive, almost empty theatres and the circles connect at certain points where there are mosaics on the floor.”
Dawn: “We know retailers within Coals Drop Yard, and they have been telling us how the anticipation has been building… the Samsung store itself, it’s kind of set on top, almost like the penthouse suite.”
This admiration continued once they made their way inside, Matt in particular having an appreciation for the space and attention to detail.
Matt: “The fact that the store is so open plan, and there’s so many departments within this, I think it’s quite cleverly done. But what I liked is every single touch point is well thought out. Even the security guard that greeted us and then the guy that came over to meet us and the tablet that he had, and the way he was able to take us through the dedicated microsite, how informative he was, was fantastic. But right from the word go, I wanted to get an understanding of why the store is there. What is its reason for being? Because we’ve seen pop up Samsung stores, we’ve seen dedicated retail stores, we’ve seen stores within stores. So, what was the role of KX?”
Straight away it was clear to both how Samsung, in this instance, were maximising the location, space and even their staff to provide a full user experience. Every aspect highlighting how the brand is at the pinnacle of advancements and technology rather than trying to directly sell a product.
Dawn: “The interesting thing for me is, we’re always looking at how we can drive, and combat loss of footfall on the high street for our retail clients. An answer is the repurposing of space. It’s to bring in that community feel to give customers another reason to go to these retail spaces. Samsung soft-launched the KX for a month just to test and learn how the space works and how customers received it, and then they’re going into the big unveil launch event. The people chosen to work in-store were more than staff – headhunted and trained ahead of launch. Their level of knowledge and passion makes them seem more like brand ambassadors, always on hand to discuss the Samsung ethos and what the “store” would bring to the area.”
Despite being in the soft launch stage when Matt and Dawn visited, preparations were already being made for the big launch which took place 3rd September. A store opening event using innovative vertical stages, that is tailored specifically for mobile phones so that the audience can completely capture their in-store experience, in this new Instagrammable world that we live in.
For both, this focus on the “experience” rather than the “sell” is forward thinking and something that makes these spaces really stand out.
Dawn: “The innovation is that it’s not a selling store at all. You can click and collect and you can order on one of the tablets, which was clever, because we know that click and collect is another reason for people to come into store, generates natural footfall. But the right-hand side was very much showcasing the innovation of tomorrow and on the left-hand side it was equally as immersive. It had the VR cars and the most amazing graffiti wall, where you’re given a remote control that you can shake and it sounds like the clicking of a spray can. Then staff go through how you can write on this graffiti wall and then they share it with you. So, you can post it on any of your social media channels, or they email it to you, to boost awareness of the experience.”
Matt: “Where I think that they are clever is they are creating an area that you can go to, to work from. I love the whole tutorial programme, you can go on to the KX site and see what they’ve got planned. It’s everything from master classes on travel to doing photography. Whether it’s yoga classes, or whether it’s cooking classes or even a sneak peek of their own S10 launch or something like that, it’s all from that hub area. So again, they’re creating this programme of events where people will come down to get involved and I think that is really important that there’s that space.”
With this approach the key factor is getting the local community on board and embracing these brand experiences, because without that there is added pressure on promoting the store and attractions further afield.
Dawn: “They thought about the surrounding community a lot, about what goes on around the store and have literally done so much research into who is on their doorstep, because they really want to integrate into that.”
Matt: “If they don’t get that right, it’s going to be very hard to justify that size store in that space. If it isn’t a brand expression, and if it isn’t embraced and utilised by the community, it’s going to become a white elephant.”
Suitably impressed with Samsung KX, both then got to experience what Microsoft had up their sleeve as they unveiled their first flagship store at Oxford Circus.
Matt: “Microsoft have these specific games they own, and these assets are their own, whether it’s Office or Minecraft and you definitely saw that coming to the forefront in-store. Microsoft, yes, it’s known for good software and it’s a good programme and everything, but they push their sub brands so much further.”
Dawn: “Absolutely, it’s seamless. I mean, the brand is everywhere, if you look around the room you just feel like everything fits. But you are drawn into the Microsoft store by the fact that it has these products which are driving it, its Xbox or the games on Xbox, which are as big as the console itself. You can’t help but think that Microsoft is a lot more compartmentalised when you walk through the experience.”
The thing both Samsung and Microsoft have got spot on is the sense of experience, both have moved away from the traditional “shop” model and instead have created multiple reasons to visit outside of purchasing. Microsoft using all the areas at their disposal to educate and entertain customers once they’re through the door.
Matt: “When you’ve got so many people in-store who are already so knowledgeable about all their products, they don’t really need to sell, they just need to be mentally there and available to talk about what the brand’s doing. When you walk in you’re faced with these massive digital screens and they’ve taken the Minecraft type of geometric design, but it’s not one static visual or scene. They’ve almost created scenes for the various windows as you look out, even the lighting is beautiful. So, it really is well crafted… It’s all been invested. But I mean, the fact that you could play, learn, and buy in one place without feeling like it was a sale shop was really good.”
Dawn: “The enterprise area they have set up is almost like a school room. There’s a programme of different seminars and tutorials that you can get involved with, which is great, especially as it’s in the heart of London. You can imagine people going there to find out how to use Microsoft Office or one of the programmes that they’re running there, it was a totally different experience. They’re even running an hour session, seven till eight on LinkedIn, so professionals can go down there to understand how to use LinkedIn as a professional tool. You can see how they’ve adapted the programme to fit people’s schedules. They’ve created an experience for gaming enthusiasts, with professionals, with start-ups, so I thought that was quite interesting.”
The main take away from both Samsung KX and Microsoft Oxford Circus is the clear investment in the customer experience. Moving away from the hard-sell approach traditionally associated with retail and instead using the space to celebrate their brands, the level they intertwine within our lives and most importantly engaging with and inviting the local community through their doors. Whilst this may not be something every brand can utilise, for those that can, these enhanced shopping experiences when executed well and for the right reasons can establish a long-standing connection between them and their customers – both current and potential.
Written by Mark Solesbury
September 26, 2019