3,832 miles away from where it just unveiled the new Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Samsung has opened a new digital experience store in the heart of New York’s Meatpacking district. Its North American retail flagship hosted the 2016 Unpacked event on Sunday ahead of opening its doors on Monday to its new six-story home with a housewarming event that featured food by chef April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig fame and a performance by Florence and the Machine.
— Paul Leys (@pwleys) February 23, 2016
Located just across the street from the Standard Hotel and the High Line and near the new Whitney Museum location in downtown Manhattan, the goal is to reinvent retail and refresh the Samsung brand, and put rivals Apple and Microsoft on notice with their NYC-based flagship stores.
Samsung 837, which reflects its address at 837 Washington Street and takes its naming cue from Urban Outfitters, expands on the brand’s recently-closed Galaxy Studio NYC experience on Prince Street in Soho. The 837 opening is being promoted on Twitter and Snapchat and beyond as a one-of-a-kind digital playground and cultural experience center. For its opening week, the 37,000 square foot space is offering free workshops and events, including Oscars-nominated movie screenings and an Oscars viewing party with DJ this Sunday, plus other events to keep bringing consumers through its doors.
While the Oscars party is already full, watch for album launch parties or join the runners club that will meet at the store on Saturday mornings before taking off along the High Line and west side with expert runners on hand—everyone wearing a loaner Samsung Gear S2 smart watch. There’s also a play area for kids, a hub for customer service queries and smartphone and tablet repairs—but no cash registers or tablets to purchase products, because there are none to buy, just try.
As noted in its launch press release, “the living lab and digital playground featuring numerous installations and touchpoints comprise three floors and include, a one-of-kind digital screen, auditorium seating for performances and special events, a Gallery featuring curated content experiences, a broadcast studio, and much more. The state-of-the-art building is a creative expression of Samsung’s brand and will serve as home for the marketing center of excellence, executive briefing center and a new customer care center designed to offer one-on-one service to Samsung owners.”
It’s more than just slick experiential marketing with staffers dressed by Rag & Bone; as its website notes, “Doing things differently is our thing, which is why we’re not calling ourselves a ‘store’ or a ‘showroom.'”
“We set out to build a marketing center of excellence,” stated Gregory Lee, President and CEO of Samsung Electronics North America of the New York space, where upper floor offices and a design studio also serve as a base for the teams led by US chief marketing officer Marc Mathieu and chief creative officer Jesse Coulter. “We immediately thought of New York City, where the best marketing happens and where people have a finger on the pulse of culture,” Lee added. “As a result, we have and will continue to attract top talent from around the world.”
As noted in its teaser video, the new space aims to become a haven where inspiration and creativity collide to create an immersive experience center with state-of-the art attractions—all the better to showcase virtual reality and what’s possible with its Gear 360 VR device.
Complete with a three-story digital screen theater (called “The Screen”), gallery space, virtual reality tunnel, music studio and more, Samsung 837 combines culture, art, passion and life under one roof. The Meatpacking location brings culture and tech together with high-end neighbors in the fashion, media, technology and hospitality spaces, including Scoop, Jeffrey, Diane Von Furstenberg, Warby Parker and Puma.
“The Screen” features 96 55-inch panels that can be programmed in unison or in segments to form the world’s largest interactive display. As Mashable notes, Samsung has “created custom content for The Screen but it can pull in livestreams from other sources too.” In front, “an open air theater can seat about 75 people” for live events.
— Samsung Electronics (@SamsungNewsroom) February 23, 2016
Gilt alum H.L. Ray has been lining up brand partnerships as it programs the new space with events and other cultural happenings, along with food—a café run in partnership with Smorgasburg, the Williamsburg-born foodie marketplace that arose from the Brooklyn Flea, and Stand Coffee.
— Samsung 837 NYC (@837NYC) February 19, 2016
What it won’t bring to the space: product, as the goal isn’t to sell items but the Samsung lifestyle. Samsung US has no doubt seen what happened after it introduced products to its Soho space, which opened for the holiday season in late 2014 with a children’s play space and a design bar for visitors (including kids) to create t-shirts, mugs and tote bags—not to mention giveaways galore, viewing parties and stations to try its Gear VR, wearable tech, Milk music studio and other cutting-edge products, all an iPhone’s throw from the Soho Apple store. There was even a loan program for free, letting people take home phones and smart watches for 21 days.
As Fast Company notes in its pre-opening tour,
Instead of endless product shelves, the space, which is named for its address, 837, features a three-story digital screen composed of 96 of Samsung’s 55-inch visual displays; a 90-seat theater; a portable demo kitchen; an art gallery; a multimedia studio; and a café. In it, Samsung will host events like film screenings, book launches, DJ sets, and, already on the schedule, an Oscars viewing party for Galaxy owners. “We didn’t want it to be a store,” (store manager Zach) Overton says. “We didn’t want it to be about pushing products in people’s faces.” Instead, he calls the building an “immersive cultural center.”
The goal of the space, FastCo adds, is to place “Samsung products at the heart of passions like cooking, film, art, music, and fitness (every art exhibit, for instance, will include Samsung devices). And it allows customers to do the number one thing that they say they like to do in brick-and-mortar stores, which is try out products. ‘People go to a retail store to see, touch, and feel,’ Byron Carlock, the head of PwC’s real estate practice in the US, said in a report about the future of retail. ‘It’s a place to buy, a place to stimulate, and a place to create new possibilities in the eyes of the shopper.'”
The New York Post‘s Jennifer Gould Kiel also toured the technology “social hub,” noting that the futuristic retail space includes “the world’s largest mobile screen, a virtual reality tunnel, an editing bay, kitchen, a children’s playroom and a DJ studio. There’s also an event space for cultural and community events and workshops.”
The physical brand presence makes sense not only as a tourist destination but as a place to own showrooming; after all, the “percentage of purchases consumers make in physical stores is steadily decreasing,” as Fast Company points out. “But even as physical stores handle fewer transactions, they remain important to brands (so important that even e-commerce companies like Warby Parker and Amazon have expanded to brick-and-mortar locations). Physical stores introduce people to new products, allow people to try before they buy, and help create relationships with customers.”
In short, don’t call the space, which soft-launched with the Unpacked 2014 New York press event as one of three Samsung global experience centers with Beijing and Berlin, a store. Samsung is inviting consumers to check out its latest devices at carriers’ US stores too, including participating AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and U.S. Cellular locations across the US starting February 26 and at Samsung Experience Shops located in Best Buy stores across the country starting February 24.
Below, check out more of Samsung 837 in Mashable‘s video tour: