H&M today is unveiling a new year-long brick and mortar concept store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It’s actually a multi-versed store with a fresh setup rotating through the more than 7,000-square-foot space through January 2024. H&M sees it as a style destination and lab, a first-of-its-kind revolving house of fashion, with an ever-changing new theme every four to 12 weeks.
First up is Brasserie Hennes, “Serving up Style in Williamsburg,” said a teaser on the brand’s microsite, calling it “a new locally-made experience.” Don’t expect to find food at this location, at least not in this first iteration, the brasserie. A coffee stand will be an element of a subsequent store concept. H&M Williamsburg will also host exclusive programming and brand moments in the space, which is at 92 North 6th Street.
At a time of dwindling consumer loyalty and a devotion only to the almighty price, retailers are pulling out every trick up their silk sleeves to engage and keep clients. “Your inbox is about to get a lot more stylish! Get excited for exclusive deals, trend alerts, first access to our new collections, and more. Plus, don’t miss out on all your member rewards, birthday offer and special invites to events!” the mircrosite said.
The brand is calling the various versions of the store “chapters,” and each one will look and feel different with updated fashion, visuals, experiential events and a crop of local neighborhood partners. H&M said it’s “bringing to life a new store concept that moves at the speed of style.”
The brasserie is inspired by a wintery French eatery that invites visitors into a cozy place to hang out for the afternoon or evening. The space features fashion from H&M’s holiday collections, as well as a curated market of local Williamsburg merchants selling everything from fragrance, home goods, vintage pieces, gourmet foods, accessories and beauty products.
“H&M has always been about fashion, fun and expressing yourself,” Linda Li, Head of Customer Activation & Marketing for H&M Americas, told me. “This new store experience puts our DNA on full display with ever changing events, style and activations for a full year.
“We’re constantly trying to engage and reach our customer in new and exciting ways and this new space shows how we’re moving forward with a customer-centric versus a product-centric mindset,” Li said. “We’re looking at this new store experience as a test, and while we don’t have any plans to reveal at the moment, we are always open to new possibilities.”
No matter the time of year or “story” being presented, certain elements of H&M Williamsburg will remain constant. It will always have a designated space for content capture (selfies) and an inspiring retail display. Beginning in the new year, evergreen partner activations from three local Brooklyn-based brands will have their own dedicated space in the store. These partners will provide the essentials that have come to define the perfect day out in Williamsburg: a coffee station, a magazine rack and music that serves as the soundtrack for the space.
Why Williamsburg? “New York City is H&M’s home in the U.S., so we wanted to try this test in a vibrant New York neighborhood with a fashion-loving customer, so we knew we needed to come to Williamsburg,” Li said. “This will be H&M’s first retail location in the neighborhood and the first store of this kind for the brand in the world.
“We’re looking at this yearlong store experience as a test to try something new for our customers and learn what they like best. While we don’t have anything to reveal at this time, we’re open to possibilities” Li said.
“We’re inviting both our loyal fans and new customers to experience H&M in a new light,” Li added, noting that the retailer is marrying style, culture and exclusive experiences at the store in Williamsburg.
“We will, of course, be evaluating the traffic, sales, engagement, interest and interactions with our loyalty program and awareness of the brand through this location,” Li said. “However, for us this new store experience is a true test, so those sorts of KPI’s are more benchmarks for us to determine how this new store is working in comparison to our traditional stores, and to determine what our customer’s needs are.”
Customers visiting H&M Williamsburg will also be exposed to the latest in retail technology for ease of shopping. Thanks to widespread RFID, store employees will have full visibility of inventory and size options in real time.
There’s mobile payment from anywhere in the store, smart mirrors in fitting rooms that identify customers’ products, including size and color, and provide personalized product or styling recommendations.
The smart mirrors use the same RFID technology to gather information about the items a customer has brought into the fitting room and the mirrors collect product data. Li said this is the first use of smart mirrors in any H&M store in the U.S.
“After collaborating on so many successful projects over the last fifteen years with H&M, we’re thrilled that our Williamsburg-born and based agency, The Gathery, was tapped to bring this creative and progressive endeavor to life in our own neighborhood,” said Nicky Balestrieri, Cofounder of The Gathery. “We’ve long known that the future of retail is in experience, so to join forces on a project like this, ultimately benefiting our community, was a no-brainer. We’re excited for our neighbors to visit the ever-evolving space throughout the next year and experience H&M in a totally new light.”
“We will be partnering with local businesses through the 12-month tenure in different ways. We want to utilize H&M Williamsburg as a platform for our neighbors to sell their curated selections during peak selling periods,” Li said. “Evergreen partner activations from three local Brooklyn brands will be revealed in the new year.”
H&M Williamsburg comes at a time when physical retail is having a reckoning. Consumers seem more interested in visiting stores after two years of shopping online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it remains to be seen how shoppers will respond to the store, especially during the chaotic holiday season.
“As the ways in which consumers want to shop, interact and have fun evolve, H&M continues to transform its business to be customer-centric,” the retailer said. “H&M has always been at the intersection of modern culture and fashion, with New York City as its home in the United States. With the brand’s arrival in the iconic Brooklyn neighborhood, H&M is truly celebrating Williamsburg.”