New York City's shelter-in-place measures profoundly challenged rotating retail concept store Showfields, a business offering an immersive shopping experience for digital-first and digital-only retailers.
Showfields’ four-story location was designed to showcase both retail products and art curations side by side, underscoring the extent to which the store's business model is rooted in the brick-and-mortar experience.
This all changed on March 20, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the closure of all nonessential businesses to limit the spread of COVID-19. Showfields was faced with either closing its operation or changing its business model to shift its business online during the statewide shutdown.
Translating a Brick-and-Mortar Experience to the Online Realm
Hunt credits Showfields’ employees for not missing a beat going digital in a moment’s notice and transitioning to the eCommerce space.
“The team really came together and was like, ‘Why did we work so hard to build this crazy thing to lose it? Now let’s save this; let’s make this amazing,’” Hunt said. “I think Showfields is thriving now more than ever because of it.”
Adjusting to the digital shift at the pandemic’s onset was not easy, however, as it called for a fundamental reimagining of Showfields’ business model. This difficulty was not only because the business centered around moving through the physical interior to interact with vendors’ and artists’ products, but also because it had no eCommerce presence of any kind prior to the pandemic.
“I think everything from the closure of some of the major department stores to, kind of, this revolution toward ... using eCommerce for a larger percentage of the population — it was an accelerant, and for us, that accelerated our eCommerce mode,” Hunt explained.
The lockdown that ensued served as a catalyst for Showfields and many other brick-and-mortar businesses to speed their transitions to digital. Three weeks following the declared shutdown, Showfields began streaming live video shopping sessions on its new website. Viewers could tune in to watch as artists, curators and vendors presented their pieces and merchants explained their products, presenting consumers with the option to purchase products on the spot.
“There’s a little T-shirt icon at the bottom, and you can click on it and ... see all the things that they’re going to talk about. When they’re talking about a specific product, there’s a little thumbnail above their head, and you can just click on it to add it to your cart, and then you can check out when you’re ready,” Hunt explained.
Facilitating purchases in this manner can be a massive undertaking for businesses with no previous online presence, and it was one of the first in a series of innovations for Showfields.
Merging Physical and Digital Commerce for Reopening
New York’s shutdown may have initiated the store’s eCommerce plans, but as the city began its reopening phases, Showfields decided to integrate its new digital purchasing options back into its brick-and-mortar experience. One way it did so leveraged its in-house mobile app, Magic Wand, allowing customers to interact with the various items throughout the store’s floor displays. Tapping on each item in the app allows users to view information, such as how it was made, the artist’s profile and pricing. Customers can also use the app to purchase any product they desire for pickup at the front of the store, with no need to carry it to a register.
Apps such as these offer a quick and seamless in-store checkout experience and accommodate visitors who want to limit physical interactions to reduce their risk of exposure.
“I think what we’re seeing is there is a sort of spectrum of comfort levels right now in New York City,” Hunt said. “We wanted to make sure that we had something for people who are being really careful right now.”
Bridging online and on-site retail is also helping the business meet consumer expectations regarding social distancing and sanitation protocols. Hunt pointed out that consumers who are not yet comfortable visiting Showfields’ brick-and-mortar location can bypass this entirely by opting to take a guided tour online, which has also helped extend its reach to customers worldwide.
“You can actually go to Showfields for the virtual tour with one of our storytellers anywhere in the world from your computer,” she said. “We take you around, we tell you about all of the brands — you can shop them, and we’ll ship everything directly to [your] home as well.”
Businesses of all stripes — even those whose past models have primarily relied on brick-and-mortar offerings — have been forced to either sink or swim due to the financial impact of the pandemic. The ability to quickly adapt to consumers’ increased demands for digital and contactless purchasing demonstrates how businesses can maintain customer loyalty and trust despite a changing economy.