This month’s travels took me past the new flagship stores of Asics and New Balance on Regent Street and Oxford Street respectively, as well as the latest iteration of 18montrose at Kings Cross. Each store delivers experiential retail; two of them, at first glance at least, present what shoppers now expect from a global sports flagship. The other brings something different; an intriguing, chameleon-like space, that’s full of surprises.
A photo finish for second place.
London’s Oxford Street and Regent Street are now well and truly the shopping mecca for sport. Nike, Adidas, JD Sports, Sports Direct all have a flagship presence in the vicinity. And now Asics and New Balance have joined the fray, opening flagships in prime locations a short distance from each other. To some extent, it’s risk-free territory. The flagship experience is why shoppers flock to these two shopping streets; they expect to be treated to the best their favourite sports brands can offer. For Asics and New Balance, received wisdom says it’s a chance to connect directly with their consumers and gain ultimate control of the retail environment. But what’s the real benefit of these store experiences for shoppers? And do they make a success of meeting shoppers’ core needs around both ease and entertainment?
Unfortunately, both Asics and New Balance stop short of delivering anything beyond the conventional flagship formula: tech-filled, high-octane, elevated experiences that shoppers to this part of town have come to expect. But that isn’t the worst crime these stores commit. Overall, the heavy use of technology and screens in both stores, whilst initially impactful, does little to connect the shoppers’ journey or connect shoppers to the brand’s cause in any meaningful, useful way.
Asics’s new store is its largest to date with just over 9,000 square feet spread across two floors. The space in general is clean and sharp with clearly designated areas for the various product ranges (the store brings Asics’s four brands together, under the same roof, for the first time in the UK). The lighting installation lives up to its hype, changing colour and moving rhythmically, an engaging way to bring the brand’s ‘enabling movement’ message to life.
Beyond this, the store starts to make less sense. A large cash desk and waiting area occupies the bulk of the mid-store, ground floor level – a hugely valuable area fully optimised by most retailers. Unless there is a plan for running clubs to meet here (and there was no evidence of this apart from free juice and water), it’s not clear what’s behind this use of space. Connecting the brand’s Instagram feed into the area is a nice idea but the execution was a bit static and uninspiring and not connected into the store’s product.
And this is my main grievance with the store. It’s stuffed with technology that, apart from the fantastic MotionID gait analysis, fundamentally fails to meet shoppers’ needs and connect into the store’s product. A robotic stockroom solution for footwear provides an element of theatre but has limited visibility and is only able to deliver sizes 6, 7 and 8. Pity Asics didn’t look to South Korean eyewear brand, Gentle Monster, for some robotics inspiration. The brand’s beautifully designed robot is strangely human, and both mesmerising and functional.