Over the years, Target Corp. has pulled many stunts to generate buzz in New York City — from building a life-size dollhouse in Grand Central Station a couple of years ago to perhaps, most memorably, setting up a temporary holiday store on a boat docked on the Hudson River more than a decade ago.
The Minneapolis-based retailer is back at it this holiday season, angling to make a big splash in the Big Apple this time with something it’s calling Wonderland.
The 16,000-square foot “retail spectacle,” as the company calls it, will be free and open to the public for two weeks starting on Wednesday. Located next to the Chelsea Market, it is filled with 10 holiday-themed displays that incorporate a digital element on top of an interactive physical experience. Each one is tied in to a popular holiday toy that Target is selling at the space.
Visitors can have their picture superimposed on a giant Etch A Sketch and share it on social media, frolic in a ball pit around a life-size replica of the Lego pirate ship Target featured in its holiday ads and test drive drones, the BB-8 robot from Star Wars or miniature cars controlled through a smartphone app on a peppermint-patterned racetrack.
“It will be a wonderful gift to our guests in New York during the holidays,” said Jeff Jones, Target’s chief marketing officer. “But strategically, it’s a continued evolution for us to think about what physical shopping is like when we blur the lines with experience and digital layers.”
The Wonderland experience isn’t something Target can fully replicate in its 1,800 stores. But it is a way for the retailer to test ideas and see how consumers react to help guide its thinking as it works on the store of the future.
For example, when visitors enter Wonderland, they will be given a lanyard with an RFID tag to wear around their neck.
As they visit various displays, they can scan the code on it at various kiosks if they want to purchase that item. At the end of the experience, they check out and pay for those items, which they pick up from a chimney that Santa’s arm pops through to hand them their packages.
Having customers scan items in a store as they go along and pick up the products at the end is an idea that some retailers are already exploring.
“The idea is to make the shopping experience feel weightless and less encumbered and to make the transaction more seamless and effortless,” said Amy Koo, an analyst with Kantar Retail. “But the most significant part of [Wonderland] is to bring this interactive and physical experience to a segment of the population that Target very much cares about.”
That population is increasingly urban, especially as Target looks to build more of its small-format stores in cities. Target, which already has several stores in New York including one in Harlem, is opening three more stores there next year.
New York is often Target’s favorite place to roll out marketing initiatives like this one since they are often expensive, and New York can often give Target the most bang for its buck by getting it in front of a large concentration of people, including those who are highly influential.
“Target loves being in New York because it’s cool, and Target wants to be cool and hip,” Koo said. “There are a lot of tastemakers there, both in the general public as well as with fashion magazines and style folks.”
Target Wonderland is near a studio and office the company opened last year and that, earlier this year, it used for a weeklong art installation called Target Too. That exhibit, where Target’s designers created huge interactive displays such as a giant smile mural made of 3,000 EOS lip balm packages, was part of the inspiration for Wonderland.