When Niketown opened on 57th Street 25 years ago it was a cutting-edge retail concept for the time with its sprawling size and sports-related bells and whistles.
But on Thursday, Nike will significantly up the ante with its new flagship, a six-level, 68,000-square-foot store at 650 Fifth Avenue on the corner of 52nd Street.
The store, dubbed the Nike House of Innovation 000, is intended to integrate the physical and digital experience by incorporating the best of the brand’s offerings — including exclusive and collaborative product — and services in a visually exciting and stimulating environment.
In a blog on the company’s web site, Heidi O’Neill, president of Nike Direct, describes the store as “the most confident moment for Nike Retail since our first Niketown opened 25 years ago. Nike NYC makes real our vision of living retail — a dynamic and active shopping experience in an environment that’s as responsive as digital. It’s the end of monolithic flagship: a living, breathing store that lets us serve consumers in a premium and seamless way.”
The first House of Innovation opened in Shanghai about 30 days ago, but that store is called 001. Cathy Sparks, vice president and general manager of Global Nike Direct Stores and Services, said the 000 designation was saved for New York as “an homage to Niketown,” which at the time was the “first of the first.”
Niketown actually closed in the spring, but Manhattan Nike customers had a few other shopping options — Flatiron, SoHo, Upper East Side and the NikeLab at 21 Mercer Street — while they waited for the Fifth Avenue store to open.
The next House of Innovation, 002, will open in Paris in holiday 2019.
“What you get today is the ability to connect with the consumer in new ways,” Sparks said, adding that the brand is using data to inform the product offering to best inspire shoppers to reach their own potential, she said.
One thing that is noticeable at first glance is that there is a heightened focus on fashion in addition to the more-expected performance sports product. Gone are the treadmills for testing running shoes in favor of customization stations, mobile checkouts and a slew of QR codes that allow customers who have downloaded the Nike app to better interact with the store and the product offering.
Upon entering, customers are in the Nike Arena where the focus is on the Nike by You customization options for the Noise Canceling Pack. Five of the brand’s signature shoe styles — the Zoom Fly 2, Air Jordan 1 High, Air Force 1 Low, Cortez and Kobe Protro — are being offered in white-on-white bonded synthetic leather. Customers can then choose from among hundreds of colors and personalized details such as laces, tongue tags, swooshes, patches and other options to customize the shoes for free. They’ll be ready in around three weeks.
On the second floor is the women’s and children’s area. Rather than being merchandised by product category, such as running or lifestyle, the performance and fashion product is intermingled for the first time here.
“Our consumer expects us to provide performance product that is the best of the best and innovative,” Sparks explained. “But they also want to look good outside the gym. So we’re mixing sport and style, which is the intersection at which Nike sits.”
There is a children’s department offering girls’ and boys’ product as well as fitting rooms designed to be more loungelike, with lighting options that include a yoga studio or indoor gym.
The third floor is devoted to men’s wear and has a more dramatic atmosphere and lighting. Unlike the women’s offering, the men’s wear is categorized more by use than by lifestyle. Guys have their own fitting rooms there as well.
The fourth floor features the world’s largest Nike footwear floor. In addition to carrying more product than any other store, displays offer a peek behind the curtain with sketches and videos of the shoes’ creation. Customers can also scan the QR codes on the shoes themselves to ask for a salesperson — or “athletes” as the company is calling its associates — to bring their size or get more specifics about a particular model. A section in the rear of the space will offer some of the brand’s covetable limited-edition pieces such as the latest LeBrons or Air Force 1s.
On the fifth floor is the Nike Expert Studio where NikePlus members can book one-on-one appointments for a personalized styling session. There, elevated product is available, such as the Nike Tech Pack collection, which offers product that blends fashion and function. Customization is also available for an upcharge.
The lower level of the store is intended to appeal to the harried New Yorker who just wants to get in and out. Called the Speed Shop, it offers an edited selection of apparel and footwear that is the most popular among shoppers in the city.
This floor, which has a separate entrance on 52nd Street, also features Pick Up Lockers where NikePlus members can reserve items on the app and have them held at an in-store digital locker. Customers can even pay directly on the app and not have to interact with anyone unless they choose to have a more personal experience.
Other experiences at the store include Shop the Look. Customers can scan a code below one of the mannequins in the store to get more specifics about the product, and check to see if their size and preferred color is available. They can then request the look be brought to a fitting room or a designated spot within the store.
Instant checkout is available here for the first time allowing NikePlus members to skip the line and check out within the app using stored payment methods. They scan the product, pay and get a receipt within the app. They can visit one of the mobile checkout stations to pick up a bag.
Other features available here include the ability to reserve product to be held for customers; NikePlus Member Unlocks, which reward customers with special offers such as tickets to games; bra-fitting; pant hemming, and a courier service where shoppers can have their purchases delivered to any location in Manhattan on the same day. It’s free for members, $10 for nonmembers.
Signing up for the Nike app is free and is designed to enhance the experience within the store. “The app lights up when you walk in,” Sparks said. “It’s the best shopping companion and allows you to go deeper into the product to get more information and a more magical experience.” But even those who do not have the app will have a good experience, she believes. “The app makes the experience better, but it’s still great without it.”
Adam Sussman, chief digital officer, said Nike has the number-one monobrand retail app in North America and the House of Innovation is intended to “really lead the way to modern retail by integrating the digital experience with the store visit to make it more conversational and fun.”
He said Nike has been “testing and learning for months and this store represents the combination of all the best learnings to bring the experience to life. We are using digital to power the human connection.” The recently opened Nike Live concept on Melrose in Los Angeles, which is focused on local assortments driven by digital and data, has been a powerful teacher.
The New York store will have a strong lineup of activations to further encourage visits such as training sessions, behind-the-scenes design sessions, etc. Events such as the Nike Run Clubs will align with key sports moments in the city, Sparks said, such as the New York City Marathon.
Sparks has high hopes for the store, although the company declined to say how much it cost to create or provide a volume projection. But in Shanghai, she said, sales have been strong since the opening. “We’ve had more than 600,000 people come through in the first 30 days,” she said. And consumers there are becoming new Nike members every two minutes.
Sussman summed it up this way: “You’ve got to innovate or die. We’re providing the best expression of the brand and the most immersive experience. The only way to top ourselves is to be immediately responsive to the consumer and use data to help drive innovation. We built this store to be highly flexible and this is just the beginning.”