The idea of a store that curates a range of interesting and relevant products in an inspiring environment is not a new one - and there is a real risk that Showfields claim to be 'the most interesting store in the world' is a case of the Emperors new clothes.
The way in which brands interact with this physical space (where space / fixture design is modelled on a digital approach) and the speed with which the assortment changes could point the way to a reinvention of the highly troubled department store concept however.
Of course the challenge is to manage continuous delivery of inspiring and engaging experiential space alongside an evolving brand and product mix without redesigning the store on a 6 monthly rotation.
If Showfields can showcase this fluid model that achieves dynamic curation in an inspiring space - and digital players are hungry enough for the physical touch to cover the cost base then this may well be a trailblazer for the reinvention of a highly troubled sector.
According to Showfields co-founders Tal Zvi Nathanel and Katie Hunt, there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach to designing the store of the future, but there are certainly methods that fare better than others. In March, the two brought their experiential retail ideas to life in the form of a four-story concept store in New York City with a rotating inventory of hand-selected brands and products. Though a portion of the companies include buzzy direct-to-consumer names like Quip, the electric toothbrush company, a majority of the space is devoted to lesser-known, online-only brands with growing social media followings. If walking through the store — located in what Nathanel described as "DTC alley" due to its proximity to other physical retailers that started as e-commerce darlings like Away, Allbirds, and Glossier — feels akin to seeing an Instagram feed come to life, that's intentional. While Instagram serves users a curated selection of aspirational images, Showfields does the same with the added benefit of giving consumers the ability to actually try the products being sold to them by influencers and sponsored posts. "The future of retail isn't about being everything for everyone," Hunt said. "It's about someone walking into your space and having the feeling like you curated it just for them. When you do that correctly, when someone walks in and they feel seen, that's the magic of retail." When it comes to merging physical and digital, don't be shy Showfields was designed essentially as an experimental testing ground for blending physical and digital retail to identify what appeals to consumers and ultimately drives sales. In many ways, Showfields is doing what brands like Warby Parker and Casper have already done to transcend the e-commerce model, just at a larger scale — within 14,000 square feet of retail space. Until recently, Hunt said there has been a fairly rigid line between how traditional retailers operate and the way direct-to-consumer brands function. Bridging the gap between the two can lead to important opportunities, and ultimately could serve as a lifeline for flailing big box stores, she said.