Samsung’s First North American Flagship is the Future of Retail
Standing outside the entrance to Samsung’s first North American flagship, nothing is particularly eye-catching. The façade of the building, located in Manhattan’s trendy Meatpacking District, resembles any standard telecomm store, with its glass paneling and black accents. But with one step inside, I know I’ve entered a very different kind of retail experience. A doorman welcomes me in, a dj spins tunes from inside a transparent studio and my eyes meet the largest digital screen I’ve ever seen. Described by the brand as a “cultural destination, digital playground and marketing center of excellence,” this is Samsung 837. This is the future of retail.
Samsung 837, whose name references its location on Washington Street, is not a store in the modern sense. You can’t buy a single item inside the 55,000-square-foot space, with the exception of pastries and beverages from its third-floor café. The flagship, instead, is a physical manifestation of the Samsung brand meant to immerse consumers in its philosophy and culture as much as its products and services. It’s a place where physical meets digital and customization is king. (Check out our Samsung 837 gallery here.)
As I evaluate the space, consumers roam around freely. A one-on-one customer care center is available on-site for Samsung product owners, and brand representatives can be found throughout the space, but it’s clear that consumers drive their own in-store experience. I drive mine straight to the gaping digital screen I noticed upon my arrival.
Spanning three stories, the screen is comprised of 96 55-inch visual displays that can be programmed to work together or in segments. It’s poised to broadcast a variety of content, from live-streamed product announcements to b-to-b presentations, but with no event in progress during my visit, I’m able to interact with the screen like any true millennial would: through a colossal selfie. An apathetic brand rep sets me up in front of a camera and before long, my image is displayed across the towering screen for all to see, the photo itself comprised of thousands of other customers’ selfies. A digital playground, indeed.
A ground floor bar area and theater seating surrounding the screen is poised to host special events. Samsung will be teaming up with its neighbors in the Meatpacking District, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as scientists, thought leaders, artists and others to offer continually evolving content that reflects pop culture, according to a press release from the brand.
Nearby, a multimedia studio is offering up its own content. The space, an encased, see-through structure, serves as an interactive hosting area for radio and podcast curators, live recordings, celebrity interviews and daily dj sets that span multiple genres of music from 1-7 p.m.
The next stop on my journey is one of the most memorable. Dubbed “The Gallery,” the area will play host to various technology-based art installations, beginning with the Social Galaxy. Created by Black Egg, the experiential design arm of Kenzo Digital, the installation explores social identity through a 360-degree experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Before stepping inside the Social Galaxy, I enter my Instagram handle into a Samsung phone with the help of a brand representative. I’m then instructed to place cloth booties over my shoes, so as not to scratch the mirrors that envelope the space, all the way down to the floor. Inside, I’m immersed in a visceral audiovisual experience. Photos and captions from my Instagram account surround me left and right, floor to ceiling, on digital screens as a robotic voice speaks aloud various hashtags from the posts. It’s a surreal experience that forces the participant to interpret his or her social identity—for better or for worse.
Moving to the top level of Samsung 837, I notice a distinct shift in atmosphere. Just past the café, curated by Smorgasburg of Brooklyn, a series of lounges await. Couches, wooden tables and home décor abound. A space for family-friendly activities and tech workshops features long tables with built-in chargers and plenty of room for consumers to engage with the environment and collaborate with one another.
Nearby, an extensive display of Samsung devices is available for customers to interact with, but for me, a photo experience a bit further along beckons. I step inside a low-lit space characterized by an illuminated cityscape backdrop. After having my photo taken simultaneously by four different smart phone brands, I step outside to view the results on two digital screens, which show how well (or poorly) each device captured the low-lit image. (It’s an interesting engagement, but one that makes me a little suspicious that Samsung’s phones always came out on top.)
Next, I’m surprised to find a full-fledged smart home environment, complete with a living room, kitchen and laundry area. Sprinkled throughout are high-tech, interconnected Samsung products and devices meant to simplify home life. The star of the space appears to be the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator, which was unveiled earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show. The sophisticated smart fridge features a 21.5-inch full HD LCD resolution screen, three interior cameras and a digital command center that allows family members to stream music and share grocery lists, among other things.
With plenty of information and some unique experiences under my belt, I could have ended my tour there, skipping over the store’s two virtual reality zones, which these days, all seem to feel the same. Fortunately, I stuck it out long enough to prove myself wrong.
The VR Tunnel features Samsung Gear VR headsets, which bring to life travel destinations, music festivals, games and other curated content that trumps the standard Oculus demo. But it was the 4D VR experience that really shook me—literally.
After signing a digital waiver (and providing the brand with some painless personal data) I took a seat in one of the VR chairs located at the very front of the store, where pedestrians could look in and get a glimpse of the action. After buckling my seatbelt and strapping on a Gear VR headset, I encountered the wildest part of my retail expedition.
I virtually rode to the top of a soaring roller coaster accompanied by the familiar sound of metal clinking on the track and a churning in my stomach that I’ve come to associate with amusement park rides. As the vehicle began to descend, I felt a rumbling in my chair and before I knew it I was flying through the air, my body whipping around exactly as it does on real-life roller coaster rides. It was hands-down (or is it hands up?) the most exciting part of my Samsung 837 experience. Even the uninterested brand reps supervising the experience were laughing as I wobbled out of my chair, heart still racing. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.
And that’s the point.
The days of fighting off pushy sales clerks and racing in and out of a store as fast as your legs will carry you are coming to an end. The future of retail lies in creating immersive destinations, not stark supply centers. Although it’s too soon to tell if the new approach is affecting Samsung’s bottom line, it’s clear that experiential is leading the way for the brand—and that’s a step in the right direction.