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The Sharper Image: Everything Old is New Again?

Children of the 80s and 90s will remember Sharper Image as that decade’s cutting-edge leader of gadgets. They may remember testing out high-end massage chairs in one of the 200 or so Sharper Image stores sprinkled at malls across America or owning one of the many iterations of their famous air purifier. And, they did this through catalogs as well, a pre-cursor to the omni channel retailers of today. Sharper Image closed all physical stores in 2008, but the brand is making a temporary physical comeback this holiday season with a pop up store at 4 Times Square and of course, as well as living on as a digital e-commerce site and wholesale products provider.

The mention of Sharper Image brings back a strong sense of nostalgia – the post-2008 generation will never experience killing time lounging in the store’s massage chairs or trying to smother their younger sibling with a memory foam pillow.

And, while a massage chair is indeed present at Sharper Image’s current-day pop-up, visitors are more likely to remember attempting to fly camera drones and racing the latest remote-control cars – or accidentally tripping a store employee with a robot dinosaur in “Attack” mode. The space has a warehouse feel, with the basement level devoted to a mini race-car track and high ceilings for visitors to attempt drone racing. Instead of devoting retail square footage to showcasing inventory and merchandise, Sharper Image’s Times Square pop-up is mostly an experiential space for visitors to test out products.

With the continued rise of alternative channels to browse and purchase holiday gifts, brands are turning to “experiential” and “showrooming” strategies to drive brand awareness and sales. Other casualties of the e-commerce and digital age, such as Toys R Us, have also flocked to Times Square for the holiday season, leveraging their brands to open temporary store fronts.

As traditional marketing strategies become less effective and as digital channels have filled with noise, sometimes the best solution can be as simple as creating a free space for people to play.

Sharper Image’s pop up store at 4 Times Square will be open through the middle of January.

Neil Stern for Forbes


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