Started with a Kiss

In London, Samsung marries technology, heritage and architecture to create a space in which experience is all. Is this the future of tech retail?
By
|
Posted April 15, 2020

Samsung (Seoul, South Korea) is one of two or three technology brands that have become retailers over the past few years, and as we edge into the ’20s it already has a network of stores across the world. For the most part these are attractive but functional affairs, where those in search of a piece of hardware, from a TV to a tablet, can select from a broad range of options.

But what about an experience that gives shoppers a reason to come back to a Samsung store? There are, in fact, a number of outposts that serve this function well with interactivity and learning to the fore, but to be part of the Samsung experiential vanguard, a visit to the recently opened Kings Cross store in London is probably in order.

Here, two converted railway warehouses from the 19th century have been turned into a stunning mix of heritage and up-to-the-moment architecture with a Samsung store known locally as “the kiss” (consisting of a structure that reaches out from each warehouse to meet overhead) as its centerpiece. The store exterior and shell is the work of designer Thomas Heatherwick and, as well as being an arresting piece of design and architecture, it is also an homage to what is possible when using in-store tech to create an experience, thanks to Brinkworth Design (London), which created the internal panorama.

Talking of the creative process, Sam Derrick, Design Director at Brinkworth, comments: “The first part of the brief was in essence simple: define the Samsung experience and hone it to a London audience. In practice, translating a Korean view of London into something more nuanced and appropriate was a challenge. The second part of the brief was technically much more complicated: seamlessly integrate technology throughout the experience. In practice, the knowledge and expertise of the whole project team made this part less onerous.”

All of which means that from a screen allowing visitors to spray digital graffiti onto a railway tunnel-like screen to a car of the future (one that can be “driven” virtually), the interior of this Samsung store is filled not just with cutting-edge pieces of hardware, but also areas in which the shopper is, effectively, invited to play.

From the outset, Samsung has taken pains to claim that “this is not a store” (although it clearly is), but instead a place in which to learn and have an experience. To an extent this is the case as a space in which the visitor can turn a selfie into a digital collage or learn how to be a DJ using a digital deck would seem to point to a series of amusements.

But as well as all of this, there is also a “connected living” area, where shoppers can get to grips with how their homes might look when seen through a futuristic lens. This is the Internet of Things (IoT), with devices in the home that talk to each other, and it is perfectly possible to see how they might be integrated into a well-heeled shopper’s bijou London apartment. As such, the store is about selling and brand awareness with mobile payment, of course, forming part of the mix. This means that you may not walk out of the building clutching a piece of consumer electronics, but if a purchase has been made, it will not be long before it finds its way to your home, courtesy of a fulfilment provider.

This is a space in which to relax, however, and that’s made a reality in a wholly physical manner with an artisanal coffee café at the far end of the shop, complete with workstations for London’s peripatetic digital freelance community. Is this, therefore, the future of in-store tech experience? “Our design responds to changing expectations in retail where customers increasingly value a memorable experience,” says Derrick.

For Samsung, it is certainly a future, but it will not have been inexpensive. In terms of cementing the idea of fun and innovation with the Samsung name, it goes a long way, and this is certainly one of the more interesting new “stores” to become part of the London retail panorama of late.