House of Showfields (187 Kent Avenue), the Brooklyn offshoot of a small chain launched in 2019, opened in Williamsburg last week. Showfields brands itself as “the most interesting store in the world” (which I take umbrage with, as everyone knows that the most interesting store in the world is Jungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield, Ohio). The store showcases up-and-coming brands and offers customers a unique, experiential retail experience.
The “house” part of the title reflects the store’s design, where every room serves as a different part of this conceptual house. Its aesthetic might be described as Tim Burton meets the Kardashians.
Instead of a traditional shopping experience, Showfields acts as a platform for customers to interact with and learn more about the brands, by way of QR codes. I wanted to give House of Showfields a chance. The offerings intrigued me — colorful rain boots from Merry People. Rare Omakase strawberries. A room featuring a mini Lush store, replete with soft purply clouds and mood lighting. But something about the shopping experience left a bad taste in my mouth. As I meandered around the cavernous space, the paucity of products compared with the sheer size of the store struck me as odd. Then I came across a sign on the table, “Items on display are for exploring only.” The lack of product was an intentional design choice.
The product curation is top-notch, though when I went to scan a QR code with my phone’s camera, a cheerful sales associate came by. “You have to download the app, and then it will let you scan the QR code from there!” I checked out a recent article from WWD to learn more about this app and its purported necessity. Magic Wand allows customers to interact more with the brands and products, also offering up a 10% discount for in-store purchases.
The discount is appreciated, but the Magic Wand app isn’t just for the customers’ benefit — it’s for the brands.
“The Brooklyn store has proprietary technology not only for sales data but also for brands to learn which customers saw their products in the store and ended up interacting with the brand’s website and possibly making a purchase online. That’s part of Showfields’ “dashboard” of data for brands, that seems granular,” WWD reports. “Sensors and point-of-sale software gather sales figures, traffic figures, customers’ gender, whether they touch and engage with products or just pass by, among other types of data.”
I understand that as a consumer, I’m constantly being mined for data at every turn. Showfields isn’t unique in this approach but making the data-mining such an integral part of the in-person shopping experience leaves me cold. Showfields works with dozens of brands at any given time, and I’m not sure to whom I’m signing my personal information away.
As Smash Mouth once sang, “only shootin’ stars break the mold.” I want those stars to shoot. I can appreciate folks trying to experiment and innovate. And I won’t pretend that I’m immune to an experiential retail experience. I’m a sucker for the new Glossier store that just opened only a few blocks away which, while certainly chock full of gimmicks, at least has an intuitive understanding of its customer (18 – 35, lives in a big city, or dreams about it, loves millennial pink and Olivia Rodrigo). I’m excited by a lot of the brands that Showfields offers, but feel a little skeptical about the presentation.
Am I crazy? Are others in the neighborhood excited about the concept? Feel free to let me know. Until then, call me old-fashioned, but I think I’ll continue my app-less shopping experience.