The art of the possible: Puma's push for personalisation at New York flagship

The art of the possible: Puma's push for personalisation at New York flagship

With its relative underdog status in the market, Puma is going beyond simply bringing a big presence with its NYC flagship store, using every trick in the book to win new brand advocates through carefully curated, brand-related experiences.

The craft market concept is a timelessly popular one. The promise of unique, ever-changing wares keeps people coming back, regardless of era and technology.

It’s therefore surprising that customisation and dynamic product line-ups aren’t brought together more often than they are, but until it’s the rule rather than the exception, Puma has made it its mission to get a foothold on the demand for unique products.

With its new flagship store on New York City’s prestigious Fifth Avenue, Puma is creating an unrivalled experience. The brand opened the doors to its first North American flagship store on August 29th, 2019, with a focus on “fully immersive experiences through tech-driven sports engagement zones, a customisation studio and digitally connected activations”.

It’s the culmination of Puma’s ever increasing power in what has always been an incredibly crowded market. With an all-time-high share price at the time of writing – up over 50% on the previous year at 69p – the German sports manufacturer is responding to consumer demand at every turn. While it’s a long way off having the power of historic rival Adidas, it’s making more of a name for itself than ever.

Puma’s international profile has been most recently bolstered by its top-level partnerships, specifically sports teams. It’s the current kit manufacturer for English champions Manchester City, as well as AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Valencia and Marseille – five top teams in five top leagues. What’s more, five-time Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton and his prodigious rival Max Verstappen are both brand ambassadors.

With its exciting flagship, Puma is combining its connections with internationally renowned stars with its products, delivering a tech-first, personalised experience in a place as popular with tourists as the rich and demanding local clientele that frequents other nearby retailers.

But it’s only the beginning of something much bigger for the store; the company sees its already-impressive assets as a mere starting point.

Puma's NYC flagship.

What is Puma’s flagship all about?

At its heart, Puma’s flagship store is designed to change, with technology and creativity powering it at every turn.

  • Puma will partner with “renowned artists and designers” to deliver its “PUMA x YOU” customization studio. Shoppers are able to customise and personalise footwear, clothing and accessories with “paints, dips, dyes, patchwork, embroidery, 3D-knitting, laser printing, pinning, material upcycling, and many other creative mediums”.
  • Every fortnight, a new artist residency begins. Kicking things off are collaborations with Sue Tsai, BWOOD, Maria Jahnkoy, Même. and Pintrill.
  • To reflect its F1 partnerships and “longstanding commitment to motorsports”, visitors can race in “professional-grade F1 racing simulators”, down the streets of New York City. The simulators are identical to those used for training by Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
  • For football enthusiasts, shoppers can test Puma boots on the in-store simulator that mimics the San Siro Stadium. While they’re taking shots, brand ambassadors Antoine Griezmann and Romelu Lukaku give coaching tips.
  • Targeting the domestic market, Puma also offers stadium seating and a large-screen NBA2K gaming experience in the store’s dedicated basketball zone.
  • The entire store is built around RFID, meaning Puma can maintain accurate, live stock levels, guaranteeing certainty for visitors. Making the most of the technology, Puma also uses it as an identifier to mitigate counterfeit returns and improve security.
  • Using this RFID technology is the iMirror by NOBAL, which allows customers to view products in alternate colours and styles, and act as a customer service point where shoppers can call for a member of staff, or even sign up to in-store events. Immediately, it sounds like an upgrade on similar technology offered at Zara’s Westfield store in Stratford, though how it works in practice is a different matter entirely.
  • Finally, regular events will take place to bolster the experiential element of the store, such as in-store music performances and fitness classes.

Immediately, the Puma flagship sounds like it ticks an incredible number of boxes for the modern consumer, but the future successes of the store – and by extension, the brand – lie in the simplicity of what it’s offering. Cutting-edge technology may support its aims, but the core offerings of customisation and interactivity are as future-proof as it comes.

Inside Puma NYC

A store that’s as creative as its visitors

With its approach to customisation, Puma is effectively giving its clothing a second lease of life at the point of sale. If a customer thinks they can improve on the base product – or there’s a minor feature they don’t like – they can change it. Tapping into the very human desire to be unique, there’s a very real chance that with certain product lines, two identical items will never leave the store.

Yet creativity isn’t always guaranteed; sometimes, people want the decision made for them, or they simply might not have the inspiration there and then to commit to a personalisation on their desired product. With visiting artist collaborations, people can take inspiration directly from well-known designers. If they don’t like their style, but the product is going to be in stock for another few weeks, it presents another reason to return to the store for a different expert’s input.

If anything, the only criticism you can make of Puma’s store is that the valuable choices aren’t quite manageable. If you pick up a jacket, only to be asked if you want it painted, dipped, dyed, patched, embroidered, 3D-knitted, laser-printed or pinned, where do you start?

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Simple tech adoption for long-term gains

Immediately, the one thing that jumps out as fantastic is the use of RFID for numerous purposes. On one level, it helps provide alternative products for customers hopeful to explore the wider Puma range. On top of this, it accurately provides up-to-date stock levels and opens the gateway to complementary tech, which can offer alternate options.

Having this breadth of choice, certainty of stock and wealth of alternative or related products turns an initial shop into a longer, experiential visit. But in terms of future applications, it opens up a whole new level of technology, as identified by Francisco Melo of Avery Dennison, who told Essential Retail: “The technology also puts the company on a pathway to integrate future functionality, such as automated payments, as it learns more from consumer experiences throughout the store.”

It's something we agree with; not so long ago, we spoke of the benefits of tracking in-store journeys through RFID.

The easy adaptation of centrepieces

Even the big, expensive technical installations are adaptable – the outlay cost may have been extremely high, but the cost of year-to-year maintenance will be very low indeed.

The basketball zone, which is gaming-led, only needs new consoles and the latest titles to meet expectations – a matter of hundreds, not thousands, of dollars. The football area is supported by the ever-changing catalogue of Puma boots and footballs; grass doesn’t change. And If AC Milan decided to get its kits manufactured by Adidas, the same technology can move the action from the San Siro to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

Even the massive shoes could change.

Even the F1 cars are almost wholly software-led, and will be updated with schematics in the same way they will be in team testing areas around the world. If Lewis Hamilton retired or Max Verstappen moved to the World Rally Championship, Puma can just partner with a new star or a past master and deliver the same, thoroughly brand-led, experience.

And while these experiences may be seen as boring to those visiting the store on a regular basis, Fifth Avenue is still a hub for millions of tourists every year; the technology will always be new and exciting to someone.

Invest to impress

Puma knows it isn’t the market leader in its field by any stretch, but it still has the market capital and presence to make the biggest mark on what’s arguably the world’s biggest retail stage. With its relative underdog status, it’s going beyond simply bringing a big presence, using every trick in the book to win new brand advocates through carefully curated, Puma-related experiences.

It couldn’t come at a better time, either, because for all its charms, New York’s retail scene isn’t as fast-moving as it could be, especially with its flagships. Of course, tourists will always visit Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, the Disney Store and even the likes of M&Ms World on Times Square – but past the products themselves, these spaces literally haven’t changed in the last ten years.

While spaces such as these will always rely on out-of-towners to drum up consistent trade, these one-time customers aren’t saviours. Businesses like Puma know what tourists and locals want: something to return to – to look forward to – on a regular basis.

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