Connected Stores: A NYC Tour and Review

Connected Stores: A NYC Tour and Review

Does the promise of those connected retails stores hold up? Our intern, Angelina D’Souza, hit the town to find out…. 

We all know that online is merging with offline, and that smart retailers are creating stores that utilize the best of both worlds. The promise then, is that the connected store might be the answer to retailers’ woes. (Connected stores can range from anything as simple as sales associates armed with iPads, to fitting rooms clad with interactive mirrors.) We decided to check out some of the most famed connected stores in New York City to see if their features live up to the hype.

Rebecca Minkoff – 96 Greene St.

The Rebecca Minkoff Soho store is the most talked about connected store, featuring a large interactive mirror at the entrance of the store, as well as one in each fitting room. The interactive mirror near the entrance of the store beckons customers in with videos of past runway shows and current lookbooks. Once customers begin to interact with the mirror they have the option to shop the website and have their chosen items sent to a dressing room. Shoppers can input their phone numbers into the system, that will supposedly notify customers via text when their dressing room (is it the dressing room that is ready ?) is ready. The mirror even has the option to order a complimentary drink to sip on while waiting.

Rebecca Minkoff - Mirror in the front

I had some issues with this particular feature; the system did not accept the phone number, so after multiple attempts I searched for an associate for help. The associate proceeded to tell me that I must have had an international number instead of a local one, which was not the case. After a few more attempts my phone was bombarded with five texts saying that I would be alerted once my fitting room was ready.

Ten minutes later I was wondering why it was taking this long, on a quiet Thursday afternoon, to get three items into the relatively empty dressing rooms. That’s when I saw the sales associate removing my items from the fitting room, so I approached the associate and he kindly apologized for the mistake and placed the items back into the dressing room. With the confusion behind me, the mirror was actually pretty cool. Once you enter the room, the mirror senses the items you have brought in and you can play around with the lighting to set the perfect tone for your well crafted outfit.

I wanted to add a necklace to my look and get a different sized leather jacket, and it was pretty seamless to request these through the mirror. It all seemed pretty cool until I realized I had been waiting for another ten minutes, so I went out of the fitting room, again in search of an associate. Finally she brought the requested necklace and a different sized leather jacket.

I decided not to purchase anything, so I used the mirror to have my session sent to me in case I decided to buy those clothes from the comfort of my couch. Overall the whole connected experience was negative considering the fact that the interactive mirrors actually made my experience more difficult.

Samsung 837 – 837 Washington St.

Samsung opened its flagship in the meatpacking district earlier this year, deciding to opt for an experience-based store completely free of any product sales. The three-floor space is designed to allow visitors to experience Samsung’s product features and share their experiences on social media.

One highlight of the store is the Samsung 360 room, which is a two-way mirrored circular room. This space is designed to showcase the Samsung 360 spherical camera, which allows you to take an image that can be viewed in a VR-like experience. The camera takes a picture of every single angle and composes one image, which comes out pretty amazing considering that the room consists of mirrors that create a seemingly infinite picture.

Samsung 837 also includes some features to satisfy customers that come to the store for the product. There is a help area armed with several sales associates at customers’ beck and call. There is also a space that simply showcases Samsung products; think Apple Store, minus the ability to purchase in-store. The finishing touch is a cafe showcasing the delicious works of famed Smorgasburg.

Samsung - VR tunnel

VR Tunnel

The Samsung VR tunnel is a little space in the middle of the store where guests can try on VR sets and see exclusive imagery come to life. When I tried the VR experience out, Samsung was partnering with Suicide Squad to show an exclusive preview through the VR headsets. The visual quality of the preview itself wasn’t great (think 90’s video), but I felt completely immersed into the experience with the Samsung VR gear.

Right next to that space, there was a roller coaster VR experience. This was probably the highlight of the Samsung VR experiences since you get the VR gear, but also sit on a rollercoaster-like chair that moves around to create the complete experience. Although it isn’t quite as scary as the Intimidator, it does resemble a kiddie roller coaster pretty well.

The gallery was by far the coolest part of Samsung 837. Before entering a dimly lit tunnel, a sales associate asks for guests’ Instagram handles and requests them to put shoe covers on. A voice in the background begins to recite some of the most used words on your Instagram account and as you enter the space the tunnel begins to light up with your Instagram pictures. I definitely stayed in this one tunnel for a little too long because it was just that cool.

Social Media Tunnel

Social Media Tunnel

The focal point of Samsung 837 is the three-floor screen made from 99, 55-inch visual displays. This space features stadium seating on the bottom floor, but the screen is easily visible from all three floors. Samsung hosts a multitude of events here. (In fact Samsung 837 and the CFDA have linked up for a year long partnership.) During the day guests can take a selfie on the designated Samsung phone-surrounded by the perfect selfie lighting-which is then displayed on the screen. What makes this selfie so special is that it is a mosaic made of your Instagram pictures.

Samsung 837 was easily the most interesting, not to mention fun, connected store I visited.

Polo Ralph Lauren – 711 5th ave

Polo Ralph Lauren’s flagship is yet another store that features those trendy interactive mirrors. After the lackluster experience at Rebecca Minkoff, I was excited to see if these mirrors actually did their job. I picked up a simple black top and skirt, then made my way to the dressing room.

At first the mirror had trouble sensing the top, but after a minute or so the top and skirt were displayed on the screen. This mirror had the option to change the lighting ambiance, request associates’ help, and change or remove an item. I requested a different size in the black skirt, and the mirror immediately displayed a message saying that an associate was working on it, and even included the name and picture of the specific associate. While I was waiting I browsed other items that would pair well with my look.

Polo Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren mirror

The only negative part of my experience was when an associate (different than the one retrieving my item) popped her head into my dressing room to check on me without warning. In my head interactive mirrors are supposed to prevent awkward moments like this, isn’t that the reason you can request associate help on the screen?

The skirt I requested was delivered right to my dressing room within a couple of minutes. I chose not to buy anything, but was able to have my session texted to my phone number, so I could check my items out later. Overall the connected features of Polo Ralph Lauren worked very well.

And now for the stores that boast connected features, that don’t actually work at all.

Perry Ellis: Macy’s Herald square – 151 W 34th St.

The Perry Ellis store is housed in the famed Macy’s Herald Square and is supposed to be the “shop of the future.” Perry Ellis features curved walls with LED hardware to display brand campaigns that tell a deeper story. The main connected feature is the floating mirrors that greet customers to create a personalized shopping experience. The only problem is that the mirror didn’t work at all. I pried the sales associate for more information on how long the mirror had not been working and when it would be fixed, but he didn’t seem to know. So the Perry Ellis connected features were not helpful at all.

Perry Ellis

Perry Ellis non-working mirror

Zara – 503 Broadway

Zara’s three floor Soho store is equipped with smart dressing rooms that feature interactive screens that aim to create a more seamless experience for customers. Sales associates are supposed to scan customer’s items into the system before allowing them to enter the fitting room. The screen should give customers the opportunity to request items or different sizes. After standing in line for what seemed like hours, I was finally directed to a fitting room, sans any scanning on the sales associate’s part. The screen in the dressing room was pretty small and displayed Zara campaign material, but wasn’t interactive at all. According to a sales associate, the store was having trouble with the technology on that day.

So I decided to visit a week or two later. This time, before standing in the mile long line I first asked a sales associate if the interactive screens were working. According to her the screens hadn’t been working for almost a month, and the store wasn’t sure what was wrong with them. So the experience with connected features in Zara was completely negative.

Connected stores are a hot topic right now, but is the technology helping or frustrating customers? Based on our store visits the answer can go either way.

Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables. Feature image from designboom.com. 

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