Living Large in the Big Apple

In its largest location to date, H&M puts visual merchandising first to appeal to its millennial clientele
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Posted December 7, 2015

This past May, H&M (Stockholm) debuted its largest flagship to date in New York’s Herald Square, the influential retail landmark where 34th Street meets Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. While the location marks the brand’s biggest, it’s hardly its first in the Big Apple. H&M has 12 other New York outposts, including its second largest on Fifth Avenue.

Sitting directly across the street from Macy’s legendary flagship, H&M’s 35-foot-tall LCD-backlit glass façade is a glittering, neon-lit contrast that packs a competitive punch in its millennial appeal.

The 63,000-square-foot space, spanning four floors, is what the retailer refers to as a “full concept store,” meaning that each and every product the brand produces can be found at the location – an uncommon feature that differs from its other stores. Due to the sheer quantity of merchandise offered by the fast-fashion giant, the space is segmented into departments that are large enough to merit wayfinding measures throughout the building.  

Menswear and men’s fitting rooms are housed on the lower level; women – H&M’s most prominent demographic – have easy access to the ladies’ department from two entrances on the ground floor; additional women’s apparel is on the second floor, as well as a dedicated shoe department, fitting rooms, accessories, cosmetics and a lingerie shop-in-shop. And, exclusive to this location, dedicated home goods, maternity wear and children’s clothing departments are positioned on the third floor.

Much of the interior decor acts as a blank canvas, creating a “flexible interior package,” as an H&M spokesperson describes, for its constantly changing offerings. Vertical space was integral real estate of which the design team took advantage. “[It] allows the visual team to display merchandise on the walls to its full potential,” the spokesperson says. These display walls also help shoppers navigate the vast space so they can quickly find what they’re looking for.

But not too quickly, of course: With lower-than-average price points comes an inherent phenomenon known as the impulse buy. As with all retailers, purchases are the end goal. But when the business model involves manufacturing and turning over inventory in a much shorter time span, like any fast-fashion company, it’s a necessity.

“Since we have new fashion arriving daily, it is important for the store design to have this in mind,” says the company’s spokesperson. “We need to be able to support such operations.”

Merchandising is a significant tool in meeting these expedited expectations, going beyond the placement of small bargain items near the cashwrap. While the store may be massive, the amount of merchandise is gargantuan. Organization helps cut down the visual chaos, but even then, product can easily fade into a sea of goods. H&M has adopted an effective technique to tackle this issue: the mannequin army.

The use of repetition in the mannequin displays is striking, but it also creates a cohesive backdrop for the apparel, preventing focus from remaining on the mannequins themselves, and instead, drawing attention to the clothing. Customers can look to the pre-styled outfits for inspiration, or flat-out imitation, as they browse each display’s surrounding department.

In this new flagship, H&M is including the whole family and the house, to boot. And in a hypercompetitive era, when everyone – not just celebrities – could use a personal stylist, a decorator and quantities of on-trend, inexpensive apparel for outings or social media candids, H&M is giving millennials exactly what they’re in the market for.