“The New York that Frank Sinatra sang about, people will never know that place. The New Orleans that Louis Armstrong sang about is the New Orleans that’s still there – it’s preserved.” –

Blake Lively

This week we join our friends and colleagues in New York; many of whom are attending the NRF Big Show and going on retail tours around the city.

Today we witness so many big retail players compete in technology and digital experience when opening new flagship stores, so it is refreshing to see Japanese lifestyle brand Muji, still recognising the power of a “traditional” tactile store experience.

I am also reminded of the attraction to the sexy “bling” with app developers describing themselves as retailers, yet we see the highest performing and “fit” retailers supplementing with technology in many cases, but above all just simply being a great retailer.

Muji in New York is a prime example of being the great at the basics.

Whilst this store lacks the techno gadgets we are used to seeing at many other flagship openings, it does not lack in the power of engagement and experience which comes from the artistic product curation and customisation experiences designed to engage all the senses dotted around the store.

The new 10,000 square feet flagship spread across two floors makes it Muji’s largest North American store to date, and features services and products specifically designed for this geographic and demographic location.

Customisation is a key theme within store, with many services being free or low cost, allowing shoppers to not only personalise their shopping experience, but the products they take home too.

From the Aroma Labo, where the staff work with customers to assist them to create their own aroma therapy scent on site, to an in-store custom-embroidery station that can be applied to any apparel or textile purchase. With 48 different scented oils, and over 200 embroidery designs available, each customer experience is designed to be unique and memorable.

As you pass through two conceptual areas of the store, ‘Found Muji’ and the ‘Muji to Go’ shop you are taken on a whirl wind trip around the world, with ‘Found Muji’ being a collection of products from a unique global destination, updated every month, and ‘Muji to Go’ being the ultimate travel essentials one stop shop.

The carefully designed customer journey around the store is guided by an array of potted plants as a reoccurring theme throughout. These are tended and designed by a local japanese plant shop owner in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and are also available for purchase. This unique local touch, helps ground this global brand in its Manhattan context.

As you come to the end of your in-store path to purchase, you engage with staff members to be guided to a point of sale desk, which are discretely located throughout the store, not disturbing the natural flow and visual merchandising of the space as a whole.

Finally, you come to leave with your purchased products, and there is one final stamp of uniqueness to this shopping journey – the free-to-use ‘MUJI Yourself’ stamp bar. Surrounded by inspirational examples hanging from the ceiling, this final stop on your tactile Muji journey allows personalisation of Muji stationary or simply any Muji shopping bags.

So the apps can guide us there, even direct us but can they really make us buy above that good old fashioned emotional trigger, that every retailer wants to pull?

Thanks to Muji New York for reminding us that it’s just not the bling that is needed to make the cash registers sing.

Happy Fit retailing!

If you’re interested in more stores to visit while in New York, contact Retail Doctor Group at vikki@retaildoctor.com.au, to get our recommendations and be put in touch with our American partners.

First published on Inside Retail, 20th January 2016.