Lessons for the High Street: Samsung KX

Welcome to our series of articles on retailers that are operating in ways that provide some interesting and valuable lessons to the wider industry.

Name: Samsung KX

Location: Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross

It’s not your average phone shop

In a nutshell: Samsung has hopped onto the retail-as-theatre train in a big way with its latest huge space in London’s hottest postcode N1C. Forget rows of gadgets attached to tables with price tags. This is a vision of Samsung products firmly and aspirationally embedded in your home. And loitering is welcomed. Think IKEA on steroids.

First of all, as with many concept stores, you’re not supposed to call it a shop. In fact technically it is not possible to buy anything to walk out with in this new environment. As the director of Samsung KX Tanya Weller explained to Retail Insider she doesn’t even call the members of the public who come in shoppers – they are guests.

The place holds no stock and there are no visible prices although you can obviously get a tour which showcases the Samsung products available. If someone were to want to order something then everything is done on mobile or tablets for home delivery later and the whole space is designed to be a digital playground rather than a hard sell shop.

It is, in fact, as far away from the usual concept of a phone or appliances shop as it is possible to imagine – and Samsung are clearly betting that with the entry of players like AO World into online mobile phone selling the days of the traditional High Street phone shop are numbered whereas retailtainment is only just getting going.

“People are here to browse, there are no rows of TVs, We want people to imagine they are in their own home” says Weller, adding that the dwell time is around 45 minutes. She explains that there are already people, around a month after opening, who are coming in every day, perhaps to sit in the acoustic lounge, perhaps to enjoy a cup of something in the in-house café or perhaps to add some artwork onto the Galaxy Graffiti wall (more of that later).

The latest in in-car tech from Samsung is on display

But if all this sounds as though Samsung has just inadvertently opened the biggest community drop in centre in history remember that this vast and beautifully designed space is slap bang in the middle of the biggest hub of creativity in the capital.

A stone’s throw from King’s Cross and St. Pancras International stations, it is part of the huge redevelopment of the industrial wasteland behind the railway. Both Google and YouTube’s headquarters are within five minutes and the whole of the Central Saint Martin’s community is in Granary Square next door. The residential around there is also very high-end professional – in short Samsung KX is located exactly among the sort of customers it wants to attract.

The space contains a community event area, which can also be hired out independently by local groups, and there is a wide variety of events on. Examples include so-called product classes where people can be shown how to get the most out of their Samsung product – at the moment a class on the Galaxy S10 phone and its use in travel is running, which shows people how to use Live Focus and pro modes, and how the phone can translate menus and book restaurants. So Samsung is clearly aware that there is a big gap in people’s knowledge about what their devices can actually do. The concept’s strapline is #DoWhatYouCant.

If only my lounge actually looked like this

The company has also teamed up with London’s main leisure publication TimeOut to develop a set of paid-for and very curated workshops on everything from floristry and mindfulness to sketching and children’s story telling. As Weller points out: “Tech can infiltrate everything, we are not selling but giving an experience. Brands who don’t face up to this new change will suffer. Online is very important but there is no emotional connection.”

Back within the main body of the space, the area is divided up into a connected kitchen setting and lounge setting complete with smart fridges, cocktail masterclasses and huge TVs with Play Stations attached, while in one corner sits a digital cock pit where users sit in a replica sports car and try out the latest Samsung dashboard technology (for the boy/girl racers there is also a VR cockpit nearby). There is also a support lounge where users can book one-to-one tutorials or repair services for their products.

The completely connected kitchen complete with smart fridge

Even casual passers-by can have their Samsung phone case customised, design tiny personalised eggs on-screen, which are then 3D printed, or create collage pictures with their phones. There is a DJ sound booth where guests can create, perform and record their own music. The word playground here is definitely not over-used and everything teaches the visitor how Samsung can be used in their everyday lives.

Weller also makes the point that the 88 staff members have been meticulously chosen from a staggering 14,500 applicants but not for their technical expertise. Just the opposite. “We didn’t want the traditional tech geeks. Our staff come from entertainment and hospitality sectors. We can teach them the tech stuff, we want their enthusiasm” she explains.

In terms of the High Street it is obvious that this venture does not have revenue generation as its number one metric of success. But what is its ultimate purpose? Weller claims it is to change brand perceptions and to be generous in spirit. “We want meaningful interaction with our audience. And they want a social buzz, Insta moments so we are dealing in the experience economy. We keep ahead of trends, the content here keeps changing and it’s supported by a strong event strategy”.

Mabel in action at her  vertical gig

And to highlight this the space was officially launched in early September with the world’s first ‘vertical gig’ performed by young breakout star Mabel. Why vertical?  Because that is the optimum way to film it on your phone, of course.