NEW YORK, United States — Bloomingdale’s is turning over some of its most valuable floor space to a rotating series of pop-up installations, nodding to the reality that the best way to draw shoppers is with workout spaces and Instagram hotspots rather than racks of clothes.
Dubbed the Carousel, the store-within-a-store will operate out of 1,000-square-foot spaces in four locations in New York and California. Each space will switch to a new concept every two months. The first installment, opening Sept. 6, features floor-to-ceiling videos featuring dramatic New York City scenes called “Urban Explorer,” put together by fashion consultant and stylist Eugene Tong.
The goal is to draw locals and tourists alike into the store, according to Frank Berman, Bloomingdale’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. The spaces will also hold events, ranging from food tastings to fitness classes. Already on the calendar: a chocolate tasting with luxury vegan chocolate brand Cioccolada, sneaker care sessions with Jason Markk and a meditation class by District Vision.
“It’ll be like a Broadway show, with limited showing,” he said. “That’s the sense of urgency we want to have around the space.”
Bloomingdale’s is the latest retailer to experiment with in-store attractions, as more customers prefer to buy shoes, makeup and clothing online. Competitors have tried food halls, event spaces and Instagram-friendly art installations. Temporary programming can generate a rush of visitors — and sales. Last year, Barneys attracted a crowds by collaborating with Highsnobiety on a weekend-long event called “The Drop,” releasing a number of streetstyle brands all at once and inviting the likes of Heron Preston and Virgil Abloh to mingle with the guests as well as DJ.
These chains are taking a cue from boutique retailers like Story, which Bloomingdale’s parent company Macy’s Inc. acquired in May, as well as the bevy of direct-to-consumer labels using retail spaces as much to drive publicity as sales. Berman said The Carousel had been in the works for over a year, well before the Story acquisition. Last year, Macy's Inc. posted $24.8 billion in sales — down from more than $28 billion in 2014. But the company has been in rebound for the past year, with shares doubling since this time in 2017.
It’ll be like a Broadway show, with limited showing. That’s the sense of urgency we want to have around the space.
To be relevant among younger consumers that want not only experiences but also a more direct relationship with brands, the Carousel concept will allow Bloomingdale’s to “establish its own point of view,” said Jack Bedwani, founder of The Projects, a brand consultancy that specialises in experiential retail and worked on Barneys’ Drop concept.
“[Customers] are happy to pair a $20 Uniqlo t-shirt with Off-White jeans,” he said. “So curation has never been so important.” Barneys’ Drop project, Bedwani added, saw a 400 percent increase in foot traffic that weekend.
While Bloomingdale’s hopes that its own permanent pop-up will drive customers into the store through sheer novelty, it projects that sales will be boosted as well. By partnering with new brands on a temporary basis, Bloomingdale’s will be able to test their success and screen products for future long-term wholesale agreements, Berman said.
“We want to make sure we’re driving both interest and traffic. While we’re looking to acquire new customers, sell-through is important,” Berman said. “It’s not meant to be a just an exhibit — it’s an interactive shopping experience and [a way of] tracking new customer acquisition.”
The Carousel will be featured in two Bloomingdale’s locations in New York — Soho and 59th Street — as well as its San Francisco and Century City outposts. If successful, the concept could expand to other stores. Every space is about 950-square-foot, with the exception of 59th Street, which will be 1,600 square feet and is intended to feel like a standalone boutique. Online shoppers will get an idea of the shop through video content and its own store web page.
The products featured in Urban Explorer include sportswear from brands like Stone Island, Dyne and LNDR, as well as accessories like sunglasses, belt bags, water bottles, bike helmets and ponchos. These items are a mix of current Bloomingdale’s merchandise as well as new brands brought in for Carousel. For instance, Goop products will be offered — a first for Bloomingdale’s.
“We feel really good about this concept, because it’s unique,” he said. “Shopping should not be a chore.”