Sony is taking a page from the new retail handbook and opening a shop that is more about branding than selling. On Aug. 4, the electronics giant will debut Sony Square NYC, a store at the base of its new Manhattan headquarters that functions as a testing ground for consumers to try new products, play with potential products and attend events.
"With this space, we're trying to give consumers an emotional connection with the brand," said Steven Fuld, senior VP-corporate marketing at Sony Corp. of America, noting that the store pulls many pieces together to tell one single brand story. The site will be staffed with a half-dozen employees, and though consumers will be able to buy from a sole cash register—tucked away in a recessed corner—the goal will be product interaction.
With eight cinema projectors, the front portion of the store will serve as an event space for classes and demonstrations. Product prototypes, like futuristic headphones worn on the neck and shirts with changing colors and patterns, will also be featured in this section. In the "living room" section of the store, Sony plans to make the Internet of Things more accessible by displaying items like a table lamp with a built-in speaker, and a portable short-throw projector. Consumers can also try out new Playstation systems and see the work from photographers on a wall of rotating display.
"Curiosity has been a part of Sony's brand for so long—playfulness as well," said Mr. Fuld. "We're okay with showing that playfulness to consumers."
While Sony's opening theme is "innovation," the store's product mix will change every four-to-six weeks; in September, it will transition to be about virtual reality.
The strategy of doing more with brick-and-mortar in order to better engage with consumers is one many brands are implementing as they struggle to boost sales and marry online with the physical realm. Earlier this year, Sony rival Samsung opened Samsung 837 in Manhattan's meatpacking district as a 40,000-square-foot display center, rather than a traditional store. Meanwhile, at Story, a shop a few blocks north, themes and products are swapped out and changed on a regular basis to keep customers coming back and looking for newness.
Mr. Fuld noted that the brand is not committed to other Sony Squares beyond New York. However, the site's name, "Sony Square NYC" conveys the possibility of other locations, possibly in London. Sony, which spent $456.4 million on measured media in the U.S. last year—a figure that includes marketing for Sony Pictures—according to Ad Age's Datacenter, has pulled back on its retail shops in recent years. The new store is the only standalone location for the brand right now, down from 10 stores in 2015.