May 5, 2016

ShopWithMe’s Pop-Up Concept Creates an Entirely New Retail Paradigm

Sometimes a project truly deserves the often used adjective disruptive. The pop-up ShopWithMe is one of them. With it, Giorgio Borruso Design and the technology company WithMe are turning retail inside out and upside down. Unlike the concept stores flooding the market, ShopWithMe goes far beyond the “change” represented by seasonal collections and snazzy promotional events to present an entirely new paradigm in terms of technology, fluidity, and mobility. This is a prefabricated retail environment neither fixed in a geograph­ical location nor dedicated to a particular brand. Both off-line and online shopping are offered there, too. Call ShopWithMe the ultimate smart store.

“I’ve long been fascinated by how the reality of a 3-D place and a 2-D interface collide,” Giorgio Borruso says. “I’m interested in data helping to create a space that reacts to you and moves in real time. This project is a seamless melding of physical and virtual worlds.” In other words, this is where the intuitive convenience of e-commerce and the tactility of bricks-and-mortar come together. 

Here’s how it works. At a factory in Las Vegas, the modular components required to build ShopWithMe are wired to the hilt with proprietary technology and packed for shipping to any part of the continental U.S., ultimately the world. Retailers lease a version for their desired time period and real estate. Then the WithMe techies step in for programming to customize the shopping experience, taking maximum advantage of myriad interactive features. Prada or Christian Dior, say, could pop up to present a collection. However, the setup is perhaps most advantageous to a fledgling brand, breaking into the market and eager to gauge item popularity and overall customer reaction, as the debut partners, Toms Shoes and Raven + Lily, did during their monthlong appearance in Chicago.

For starters, Borruso cites the wall composed of 1,000 stacked white boxes fronted by small monitors. Think of the individual monitors as pixels composing a 35-foot-wide screen for looping computer-programmed lighting effects and high-resolution visuals. The composi­tion is furthermore modified when some of the boxes extend outward, up to 2 feet, to serve as shelving for shoes or support hangers for clothing. Just as techno-savvy as this kinetic “shape-shifter,” in his words, are his patented ReacTables. Place a shoe on the glass top and, zap, a product description and available sizes and colors light up the surface. Nearby, touch-screen monitors have been programmed with a digital product catalog. “Change the files, not the fixtures,” he explains—pretty much ShopWithMe’s operating principle.

A merger of high-tech and low-tech, the fitting rooms disappear when not in use. To try on clothing selected on one of the touch-screens on the sales floor, a customer walks over to a mirrored wall with doors in it and opens them to find a closet magically con­taining the items in question. A touch-screen embedded in the mirror then causes a three-sided enclosure, in gray and cream felt, to descend from the ceiling. Once inside, the customer can use the same touch-screen to request more sizes or colors, even entirely different merchandise, and they are instantly added to the closet.

Checkout at a dedicated kiosk is equally easy-breezy. Once the ShopWithMe app is loaded on a customer’s smartphone, a swipe is all that’s needed to complete the transaction. Cash or credit card not required. (Actual humans are on hand for technical assistance.)

So what’s going on with the futuristic orb standing on its own in the middle of the sales floor? Referred to by Borruso as the “space-shifter” and by WithMe cofounder and CEO Jonathan Jenkins as the store’s “brain,” it’s a virtual-reality room where five visitors at a time can take in a fully immersive brand experience, goggle-free. Toms Shoes, for example, created a 360-degree video of children playing in Peru as reminder that, for every pair of Toms bought, another is given away to those in need.

The virtual-reality dome is one of ShopWithMe’s six components. Four others are 40-foot-long containers: one apiece for the fitting rooms’ closets, the storeroom, and the generator, all bolted together side by side, then connected to a span with the container for the screen wall at the far end. An assembled unit encompasses 3,000 square feet. Borruso kept the materials palette minimal, light, and bright. The floor planks are hickory, and translucent white tensile fabric floats overhead.

Thus far, three ShopWithMe units have been built. The second just rolled into San Jose, California, where the pop-up tenant is Harley-Davidson.  

Project Team3DAR: Graphics Consultant. Mendenhall Smith: Structural Engineer. D4C Product Development: Hardware, Software Engineer. T. Alongi; Spectrum Oak Products: Woodwork; Reggiani Illuminazione: Track Lighting; Fabritec Structures: Stretched Ceiling System.

> See More from the April 2016 issue of Interior Design

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