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Brands at Play: Reinventing the Store Where Digital Meets Illusion

Posted by: Jemima Maunder-Taylor on January 30, 2014

Stroll down the sunny streets of Melbourne Sydney and you’ll find Sneakerboy, Australia’s new favourite footwear brand. Open the eye-of-the-cave door and immerse yourself in the seemingly endless, darkened aisle of designer label sneakers, special editions and pre-release samples, wandering ever further into the hologram tunnel.

Artfully merchandised rows of shoes line the walls, ready to be worn, but none will leave. This is another brick-and-click setup; you won’t walk out of Sneakerboy with your new shoes. Instead you’ll order via iPads or the mobile app, to arrive at your door days later, and you’ll leave the store empty-handed.


Hailed as the next generation retail model, Sneakerboy turns the search for a new pair of boots into a digitised world of play. Online convenience meets physical theatricality to revolutionise the space: product showcasing uses 77sq m of the 80sq m total in the flagship Melbourne store. This store is all about the illusion, the mysterious, futuristic foray into the world of Sneakerboy. The brand’s rebellious, savvy personality is brought to the fore so that shoppers can take part in the brand themselves.

Creating digitised playgrounds out of store space is a simple and engaging tactic. Brands can showcase their core values and assets on the high street, minus the hassle of stock-keeping.

US jeans retailer Hointer targets time-strapped shoppers with its seamless, effortless experience. The offer is wholly shoppable via the in-store mobile app. Customers select jean size, model and colour, which are sent within 30 seconds to a designated fitting room, thanks to behind the scenes robots. They purchase items on the spot in the fitting room, or discard them from the virtual shopping basket. Digital wow factors make this experience cool, collected and refined, just like its brand.

Nike is the undisputed king of turning digital play into an emporium of its brand. The energetic, go-getting atmosphere of its stores is achieved through gamified innovation, using illusion and even magic to launch new products.

The Box Park outlet in London’s Shoreditch is renowned for its neon-lit everything and wall-length displays. The pop-up is a Nike+ Fuel Station, with interactive displays and stations to test and showcase the Nike Fuel band. The store featured digital mannequins with motion sensitive mirrors revealing film footage of local runners clad in the latest Nike gear. Not to mention the gait-analysing treadmills and an immense interactive screen installation where shoppers could watch life-size images of themselves reflected via motion-sensors. The end picture became a personalised digital art piece, shareable via social media.

Nike also designed the Building Twist in Tokyo, to launch its new twistable free-running shoe. The game used projection mapping to entice shoppers to play with the illusion. When players picked up the shoe and twisted it, neighbouring buildings appeared to twist in a mimic of the game, a magical experience playing on reality. These are just a few examples of Nike’s digital phenomena, for which it has been widely praised. And rightly so – the excitement and hype surrounding Nike are a perfect embodiment of the spirit of the brand, ready to unleash the athlete in all of us.

This trend isn’t limited to fashion brands either. Mini, the brand of downtown fun, turned traditional car-selling on its head by driving the showroom test cars to the buyers’ homes. Imagine the surprise for the prospective purchasers of the brand of urban excitement.

Moscow’s Noviy restaurant redesigned all of its surfaces as touchscreens so guests could communicate with each other from across the restaurant and order their meals by text. Traditional fine-dining was re-imagined for a brand positioned around the novel, the evolving and the unexpected.

Even at product level, brands are looking at digital innovation to awe and entertain us – think edible QR codes, alcohol-aware ice-cubes and smart knives which display food freshness and provenance on the blade as you chop. Creating hubbubs of inspiration and illusion, or even just a game, is a winning tactic for brands wanting to invite consumers to join the experience. Those cashing in on our willingness to explore surreal and transportative brands are the ones which will drive footfall to the bricks-and-mortar stores.

Jemima Maunder-Taylor is an Analyst, Brand Strategy, at Interbrand London.

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