Commuter Commerce: Subway Retail Update
Subterranean retail hubs are booming, especially in countries with harsh climates where controlled environments offer leisure-time respite. But the relatively captive commuter audience has more mileage globally. According to a new report by US property business CBRE (2016), 20% of brands from the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa are now targeting travel hubs as an emerging format of expansion.
- Early Adopter: In April 2014, London Underground introduced pop-up store units into key tube stations at Old Street and Piccadilly Circus, in collaboration with Transport for London and UK-based short-term retail specialist Appear Here. They have both since evolved into established retail hot spots, thanks to 12-week long themes, which participating brands are asked to adhere to.
In May 2016, UK e-boutique Ejder and British menswear retailer 24Hourclub reimagined a neglected toilet and shower room at the Old Street site, turning it into a contemporary space selling menswear and limited edition accessories.
- Trialling a Downsized Format: In April 2016, Danish variety store Tiger expanded its UK reach by opening its first small footprint store in London’s St. James’s Park tube station. At just 700 sq ft, the store carries a condensed selection of its usual products range. See also Downsized Retail Destinations.
- NY Super Hub: Also in April 2016, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority opened its subway-rejuvenating project TurnStyle at 59th Street and Columbus Circle: a 14,700 sq ft retail and hospitality space capitalising on its daily 88,000 commuters. Some of the station's original features have been retained, such as beams, pillars and vaults, which have been lit up to optically enlarge the space.
It currently houses 39 vendors, including British cosmetics brand Lush, US eyewear retailer Specs and convenience store The New Stand. The destination features a grab-and-go snack area, a seated food court and a retail section incorporating pop-ups and permanent stores.
- Prestige Hot Spot to Watch: The latest architectural addition to Manhattan’s transit scene is the World Trade Centre Transportation Hub, which includes a wow-factor main hall called the Oculus, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Partly opened in June 2016, the main retail section is due for completion in autumn 2016, with Apple expected to feature as one of its lynchpin vendors.
Similarly, US eyeglass retailer Warby Parker is set to open shop at NYC Grand Central Terminal in 2016, with the store spanning over 1,357 sq ft and carrying the brand’s whole product range.
- Subverting Standard Formats: Reimagining traditional subway kiosk retailing, innovative concept The New Stand opened in 2015 at New York’s bustling Union Square station, taking advantage of the daily flow of 150,000 visitors. Focused on utility and context, the diminutive 150 sq ft space is stocked with modern takes on essentials, including cold-pressed juices by Help Remedies pharmaceuticals, Yeti Yoga Mats and Sir Richard’s Condoms.
Bringing the store into the digital era, an accompanying app serves up news, video content and contextual deals that change on a daily basis, such as discounted umbrellas when it’s raining. The app also features content from media partners including Time Inc. and Broadly, media group Vice’s women’s interest channel.
For more on the growth of airport-based in-transit retailing, look out for our Travel Retail report, publishing on August 22.