Showfields co-founder and CEO Tal Zvi Nathanel says there’s a good reason why Turkey’s 600-year-old Grand Bazaar in Istanbul remains one of the world’s most visited places on earth, attracting more than 91 million visitors last year—just shy of the 100 million Prime members shopping Jeff Bezos’s blockbuster company.
At a time when consumers increasingly live their lives online, those who choose to engage in the physical world are looking for something intriguing, authentic—and tailored to their tastes.
The venture community has fallen in love with rocket-ship startups born online but many of these emerging companies, like Warby Parker, Bonobos, Parachute and Ayr, have made the costly decision to put down roots in the real world. The “cherry on the top,” Nathanel said at WWD’s Retail 2030 in New York City Wednesday, is that Amazon—one of the original online innovators—is in its own way leading the charge into physical retailing, which likely plays a role in direct-to-consumer brands following suit.
Nathanel and his team opened Showfields just months ago following a “lightbulb moment,” he said, when two years ago he discovered that Instagram ads seemed to be more enjoyable than the experience he was getting in brick-and-mortar retail stores. That realization prompted Nathanel to really distill the aspects of both digital and physical commerce that have been most successful and figure out a way to integrate online and offline in a way that’s meaningful for both brands and retailers, as well as consumers.
Consumer-minded businesses can achieve the best of both worlds by participating in what Nathanel believes is a new category—what he calls “c-commerce.”
C-commerce lives between the $6.2 trillion traditional retail market and the $600 billion e-commerce world, and stands for the five C’s: convenient, content, curation, communication and connection,” Nathanel said. This approach to commerce treats retail as a platform and gives brands the power to make the choices that are right for them—time, space, location and end goals, said Nathanel, who has four children younger than five years old.
“Ninety-five percent of emerging brands can’t contemplate the thought of going into brick-and-mortar,” he continued. It’s expensive, it’s complicated and most spaces aren’t sized to accommodate young resource-limited companies.
Showfields offers a turnkey solution that makes entering physical retail more accessible for brands and provides an interesting experience for consumers. The rotating nature of the selection at Showfields drives urgency, Nathanel said, and encourages people to return and discover what’s new.
The “four floors of magic,” as Nathanal refers to them, in the inaugural Showfields outpost at 11 Bond St. in NoHo is the first of many buildings that will bear the company’s name. Showfields curates brand-oriented, consumer-centric, design-driven emerging companies with similar DNA, the co-founder explained.
It usually takes about two to three weeks for new brands to get their concept into Showfields—some pulling the trigger after just a video chat or virtual tour. “We look at space in a way that allows us to create very fun experiences for the brands,” Nathanel said, noting that the company refers to the brand spaces as “fields.”
Navigating the Showfields building is similar to wandering through a maze. Nathanel said the company “re-thought the path of the shopping experience in a multi-brand environment,” challenging the usual assumptions about sightlines and forcing people to actively engage in the discovery process. “Experiencing Showfields is always about what’s around the corner,” Nathanel said of exploring the space.
Half of the Showfields facility is dedicated to “show,” a constantly evolving programming lineup that features a mix of workshops, events, classes and art. One floor, The Loft, is set aside as a community space where the brands exhibiting at Showfields can engage with visitors.
Showfields comes with a “thick technology layer” that captures everything that happens throughout each installation, giving brands the kind of visibility they’re used to getting online and ensuring that each customer touchpoint and interaction receives the appropriate attribution.
Retailers, he said, are “sitting on a lot of space,” which serves as the foundation of every community. By tapping into the vast breadth of communities that largely live online, retail businesses can expose their brand to potential new customers. “Just by being a host to those amazing types of communities, you can do a great service for them and yes, drive traffic to the store,” Nathanel noted.
Opening up stores to online communities also gives retailers a way to A/B test different audiences without the typical cost, he added.
And attracting desirable consumers requires a careful curatorial eye. “If products were represented by the letters of the ABCs, then curation would be the words our brand chooses to say,” Nathanel explained, adding “the voice of the brand is more important today than ever.”
History bears out the case for brands and retailers that make their point of view clear. The ones that have tried to be everything to everyone—Sears, for example—have had the hardest time adjusting to the variable winds of consumer change. Today’s consumers expect personalization as table stakes (thanks to Amazon, Spotify and Netflix) and for seamless consistency from online to off. The unfortunate reality is that brands get “zero points” when they achieve this frictionless cross-channel experience but lose when they get it wrong, he added.
The beauty of Showfields, according to Nathanel, is not that it has invented anything new, per se, but that it’s bringing together different elements of physical and digital retail that work.
His company’s true innovation, he said, is in “connecting the dots.”