When SHOWFIELDS opened up in New York City a little under a year ago, just in time for the 2018 holiday season, it advertised its experiential retail concept as “the most interesting store in the world.” Instead of being merely a nicely laid out warehouse of consumer goods, Co-Founder Katie Hunt’s vision was to create a store that made discovery of products less of a chore — and more of a fun adventure for shoppers. In the pre-Amazon days when all commerce was brick-and-mortar, shopping was part retrieval mission focused on the goods one was there to purchase, and part scavenger hunt that opened the customer up to find some new and beloved thing.
In the digital commerce era, consumers have streamlined a lot of the frustration out of the retrieval side of shopping — it is incredibly easy to find exactly what one is look for and have it delivered to their door within 48 hours. But that advance has come, Hunt noted in an interview, at the expense of the discovery side of shopping — which is why so many up-and-coming direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands are finding it hard to find an audience and stand out in the crowd.
The SHOWFIELDS experience was designed to offer customers a new way to both find what they want — and discover what they didn’t know they needed. The department store is something of a modern bazaar, where DTC brands pay SHOWFIELDS a $6,000 to $12,000 a month subscription fee for placement within the four-story department store. In return for that fee, SHOWFIELDS manages the entire retail process of each small storefront within the larger store, as well as spit back data for merchants about what products are drawing interest. All revenue from sales earned within SHOWFIELDS are the merchant’s to keep.
The stores-within-a-store concept generated a fair amount of buzz for for SHOWFIELDS, though many noted the concept is not exactly unique except for perhaps the scale SHOWFIELDS is presenting it on. In-store pop-up shops have been trendy for some time. But as of July SHOWFIELDS really took the notion of the most interesting store in the world to a whole new level, with an experiential retail concept loosely modeled on “Sleep No More.” For those unfamiliar, “Sleep No More” is a fully immersive adaption of “Macbeth” that drops the audience into the middle of the action — all of which is taking place around them at the “McKittrick Hotel” that has been running in New York City since 2011.
The SHOWFIELDS retail-tinged version starts participants off on the top of a black-and-white slide that descends into darkness. The slide is accessed via a “secret door” on the third floor. Once shoppers have slid through, they are very literally dropped into the middle of an immersive theatrical performance called “House of SHOWFIELDS” that takes place across the entire second floor of the SHOWFIELDS department store. The play takes place in the home of Amelia Showfields, a character who is the matron of the house and the center of the narrative. Consumers will also find they are surrounded by performers who are just that — The House of SHOWFIELDS is staffed with actors, not salespeople. The part they are playing is that of creative brand advocate — they tell the stories of the brands featured and why they matter.
“A woman dressed in all white with lab glasses pulls me over to sit on a log. She tells me she’s been working on a new formula. She dabs a bit of lotion onto the back of my hand and proceeds to tell me how it’s all-natural, plant-based, and vegan,” one reviewer noted of their first few moments wandering around the immersive retail feature.
After they’ve wandered through all the rooms in the house, and experienced the theatrical performance, shoppers are guided to the last stop on the journey — “The Lab” where they can actually purchase the goods on offer in the exhibit, as well as a few other items curated from the rest of the store.
And, according to at least early anecdotal evidence, participating in the play was good for the brands that had a role. The company reports having seen its sales double during show weekends versus previous weekends.
That reaction, Hunt said, is exactly what they were hoping and planning to see in the show’s limited run.
“I think the minute you go down a slide, you’ve already made the mental commitment to try something different and try something new,” she said. “And so you get to the bottom of that slide and you try this product. And what we’re seeing is what we always knew from their data: Once you try it, you want to purchase it because it’s so different.”