Less than a mile apart, two extravagant new shopping destinations have opened in New York City. One, by Levi’s, sits right in Times Square, surrounded by the area’s flashing screens and rush of pedestrians. The other, Nike’s, is located on a tony stretch of Fifth Avenue, across the street from Cartier and a short walk from Rockefeller Center.
The stores themselves are vastly different in their look and feel, but they have a lot in common. They’re “concept” stores, flagships for their brands and an attempt to dissolve the boundaries between online and offline shopping. They represent a shift happening in the way both companies sell their products, putting a heavy emphasis on one-to-one connections with customers, and customized products. Being physical spaces that surround you, they can be immersive in a way that an online experience can’t—at least not yet. They’re theater in the form of shopping spaces, where Nike and Levi’s stage-manage their customers through a narrative about the brand itself.
Traditionally Nike and Levi’s have done most of their business as wholesalers, peddling their sneakers and jeans to retail stores that offer them alongside other brands. That arrangement has worked great for decades. It got their products in front of shoppers without the brands needing to build and maintain a vast network of stores. But a lot of those retailers are now struggling, and online shopping has made it easy for brands to sell to shoppers directly.
Besides, why would Nike or Levi’s want to be just one label among several, in a store whose main priority is to promote its own brand?
These new stores are part of the play by Nike and Levi’s to take more of their business—and their stories—into their own hands. And despite all the dire warnings about the “retail apocalypse,” they point to the reasons that brick-and-mortar stores are still important. They may be the best marketing trick the brands have.