The latest must-see store from Nike is on New York’s Fifth Avenue – and it really does things that other shops do not.

One of the retail buzzwords of 2018 was ‘phygital’, a dubious portmanteau meaning the combination of physical and digital.

It is usually applied to a bricks-and-mortar store equipped with tech that enables the shopper to hop the digital fence seemingly at ease, enter the virtual retail world and return unscathed with a purchase or order confirmation in hand.

The endeavour is all very 21st century and retail’s great and good have been falling over themselves to tell investors, as much as customers, that they have seen the future and this is it.

Yet in New York last week, visitors might have raised an eyebrow at a store that certainly behaves in part like a website, but which is all about bringing digital into a store and then using it as a means of customer interaction, rather than the store being the portal to another dimension.

The store in question is the 68,000 sq ft Nike House of Innovation. Open since the end of November, this is a six-floor affair on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

Data capture

From the outside, the ribbed darkened glass that forms its walls looks a little like the pattern that might be found on the underside of a pair of modish sneakers. The signage that announces the offer that lies within is actually relatively subdued and it is not until the shopper is nearing the building that the nature of the store becomes apparent.

Step across the threshold, however, and there is little mistaking what is ahead. To the right, a white glass-topped counter displays laces, lace accessories and decals, among other things, all of which can be applied to a pair of the blank white trainers that fill the back-lit wall behind the counter.

Once the customer has become a NikePlus member, they are encouraged to download the Nike app that will make shopping in the store easier

This is the first encounter that the shopper will make with one of several personalisation areas in this store which allow shoppers to have a pair of bespoke trainers customised to order for $163.

Next to the counter, there is a glazed room with sewing machines, coloured thread and suchlike, which is where the action end of the personalisation process takes place.

There is a catch in all of this, however.

Most of what is on offer is (freely) available to NikePlus members who have signed up and given away a considerable amount of personal data in exchange for limited edition and member-only pieces of clothing and footwear, as well as free shipping.

By this reckoning, this store is about data capture. Once the customer has become a NikePlus member, they are encouraged to download the Nike app that will make shopping in the store easier and will enable a number of features to be ‘unlocked’, particularly on the top floor.

In essence, this boils down to improved access to dedicated members of staff, who can provide advice, as well as the ability to use ‘instant checkout’ (with an associated credit card) and to scan QR codes that will give product information on any mobile device.

Stop and collect

Long before reaching the top floor, however, the shopper and the NikePlus member will have passed a large number of ranges on each level.

For shoppers choosing to use the shop and app in combination, seeing in the store and ordering on a mobile via the app, there are NikePlus collection points, where shoppers can pick up items they have selected using the mobile app.

The web is perhaps most obviously brought into the store with a collection of clothing that is ‘trending in NYC’

These are mid-shop and amount to stop-and-collect spaces, rather than a cumbersome click-and-collect counter at which the shopper will probably have to wait. It’s a little like the ‘proceed to checkout’ feature of any website, except that it happens to be taking place in a store.

Payment is pretty straightforward too and can be made via the app.

Higher up the store there is the Nike Sneaker Lab – a gallery of trainers encompassing the entirety of the current offer and a large number of the styles that have hallmarked the brand since it really became a force to be reckoned with in the 1980s.

The display is minimalist, with backlit walls providing a shiny home for the shoes.

Worth noting too is the Sneaker Bar, in the basement, where NikePlus members can consult on which training shoe to purchase with the help of an expert.

This is also the floor where the web is perhaps most obviously brought into the store with a collection of clothing that is ‘trending in NYC’.

Translated, this means a mid-shop display of clothing and shoes that reflects the current online purchasing habits of New York’s Nike shoppers, and as such it is intended to appeal to the local demographic, as well as those who would like a slice of the Big Apple and what it represents.

Online Nike shoppers also venture to this floor to reserve items as well as collect orders from lockers which can be opened with a smartphone swipe – courtesy, of course, of the Nike app.

Best of both worlds

Finally, there is the top floor, the location of the Nike Expert Studio.

Here, members can book an appointment, using the app or in-store, and benefit from one-to-one service from an expert, for which read a member of staff who as well as being tech-savvy and able to explain the positives of a pair of trainers, will probably look a lot fitter than you do.

This is a store which you can shop perfectly adequately without downloading Nike’s mobile app while simultaneously making it plain why using it would be worthwhile.

This is a digital store that is also physical, and where most of the digital action is likely to start and finish within the building

In fairness, there are some elements of this store that are just a little, well, puzzling, such as the suspended item that looks like an early Sputnik satellite with screens attached to its exterior. This may be ‘innovation’ but in reality, this is probably little more than a hi-tech visual merchandising prop, even if it does have moving images and flashing lights.

Also curious is the fact that this six-storey store doesn’t have escalators, obliging shoppers to walk up the many flights of stairs that follow the interior of the front of the shop.

Perhaps this is about making people fitter, but it was a long way to the top and a number of ‘athletes’ were making complaints (particularly as on the day of visiting both lifts were out of action).

All of which notwithstanding, this is a digital store that is also physical, and where most of the digital action is likely to start and finish within the building, rather than at some indeterminate point in the electronic universe.

As such it really is a ‘House of Innovation’ and offers a path which it is not hard to imagine that a good number of other retailers, both sports and otherwise, will feel is worth following.

A trailblazer and immediately giving Nike the lead in a very hotly contested part of retail.