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Sensory Experiences Shape the Future of NYC Retail

By Amy Zimmer | April 2, 2015 9:52am
 From swanky Brookfield Place to indie Brooklyn chocolatiers, it's all about creating theatrical spaces.
The Future of Retail: Creating Theatrical Shopping Spaces
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MANHATTAN — The future of retail isn't just about selling things.

It's about engaging consumers on social media — a crucial space where retailers have to compete for shoppers' attention — and creating sensory experiences that give people a reason spend time in and around stores rather than shopping online.

The team of architects, designers, social media gurus and others behind Battery Park City's newly-opened Brookfield Place — the $300 million transformation of the World Financial Center into a 300,000-square-foot luxury shopping center — believes it's on the forefront of this trend.

Brookfield Place will project real-time Instagram feeds on several large screens in the space to connect what's happening amid its mix of upscale boutiques (like Tory Burch, Burberry and Theory), dining (like the French food court Le District) and its spaces for community events and arts (like movie trivia night at the Hudson Eats food hall or the performances at the Winter Garden).   

"Being able to seamlessly integrate an online and physical presence and feed social media back into the physical space is the future," said Erika Tarte, of Local Projects, the design firm that worked on the center's large-scale interactive displays.

The firm is helping Brookfield use "real time reporting" from Instagram on happenings at Brookfield, from arts events to store sales, Tarte explained.

These updates will be displayed on large screens in the shopping center and on its website. For instance, the feed might highlight what's pink at Brookfield place, like a wrap dress at DVF, a silk scarf at Hermes or a men's dress shirt at Bonobos.

It's a shift for Local Projects to bring its "curatorial expertise" to a retail space, as the firm specializes in creating high-tech displays for museums and worked with the 9/11 Museum and the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Tarte noted.

Making sure the eateries, Madison Avenue-like shops and art events were connected with each other through social media and through the space itself was paramount in trying to create a "sense of place," explained Scott Spector, whose architectural firm the Spector Group helped ensure the "different avenues and thoroughfares" in the center also felt connected to the light and air of its waterfront location.

Williamsburg Artist Opens Boutique Where Dresses Are Performance Art
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"It's a destination now," Spector said.

Other retailers in New York, whether indie brands or national chains, have also been focused on turning their spaces into destinations, albeit on a smaller scale than Brookfield Place. Nearby in TriBeCa, Detroit-based manufacturing company Shinola, set up shop with custom monogram machines in the store, along with a coffee shop. Williamsburg's new custom dress shop Que sal mah creates "wearable pieces of art," where the dressmaker spends an hour with a customer cutting one piece of cloth, into a dress, making a performance out of the process.

"The big thing right now is live experiences. There's no other reason to go into stores except for ways to interact more with people, so there's more theater in stores, like smell or taste or sounds — anything that engages the senses," said David Ashen, of dash design, which has been working with Godiva chocolate shops on revamping spaces so shoppers can feel immersed in chocolate and ogle "live dipping" events.

"Look at brands that are doing well, like Mast [Brothers] Chocolate," Ashen posited about the Williamsburg-based chocolatier. "You walk in the store and it's an experience. They're roasting the cocoa beans there, and there's cocoa dust in the air. You remember it, and you'll spend $7 or $9 on a bar of chocolate."

The social element of the shared experience is also critical, he said.

"People are stuck in their work places in front of computers all day. So they want to go to places where they can interact with friends."