Why Retail Isn’t Democratized, According to Showfields’ CEO

Tal Zvi Nathanel, the founder and CEO of Showfields, explains the retailer’s unique approach to experiential retail and why most physical retail is “dull and boring.”
A "Trend Talk" graphic with a photo of Showfields' CEO Tal Zvi Nathanel.
  • Experiential department store Showfields has been expanding.
  • Co-founder and CEO Tal Zvi Nathanel broke down the store’s strategy in the latest episode of Retail Leader’s “Trend Talk.”
  • Nathanel says most in-person retail today is “dull and boring” because it’s undemocratic by design.

Showfields, the department store that dubs itself “the most interesting store in the world,” is all about the in-store experience.

The retailer opened its first location — a store in the NoHo neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City — just a few years ago. Since then, it’s expanded to Miami, opened a location in Brooklyn, New York, and most recently a store in Washington, D.C

The newest locations, found in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn and the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, are called House of Showfields and each feature individual departments that are meant to mirror rooms in a house. 

It’s all part of the retailer’s broader strategy of rethinking the retail experience by creating unique experiences for the consumer. Showfields’ department stores feature themes that change (a recent theme was “Rebirth”), as well as different experiences and offerings from brands of various sizes that also rotate in and out of the store on a biannual basis. In addition, the stores regularly feature live events and other in-store activations that keep customers coming back for more.

“The idea is that our product is actually that customer experience, not any specific category,” Tal Zvi Nathanel, the co-founder and CEO of Showfields, said on Retail Leader’s “Trend Talk” podcast. “You come to Showfields because you want to validate a product that you heard about or be inspired to find something that you didn’t know existed. We are a center for discovery, inspiration and validation of things that you saw online and you didn’t touch.”

Nathanel said Showfields’ approach to experiential retail stemmed from its desire to fix a problem in retail — that it’s stale and undemocratic by design.

“I think that experiential is potentially the answer,” said Nathanel. “Retail, as it is set up today, is not a consumer-centric environment. Most multi-brand environments around the world, meaning department stores, big boxes — places that carry multiple products, multiple brands — are by definition retail-centric, meaning all the decision-making process behind them, because of their business model, is what should be on the shelf given what is going to sell in the next few months.”

This retail-central decision-making process often leads to retailers offeringwhat they already know and what had long existed, Nathanel added. Rarely, he said, do big-name retailers offer products or brands that were created more recently, months or even a few years ago. This means only well-known brands and established products are sold in stores, even though consumers are already comfortable buying those products through e-commerce channels, Nathanel said.

“It’s never something which is not yet well known and so that’s kinda where it breaks for brands,” he added. “Retail, as it is today, is by definition not democratized, meaning not everybody can surface — only very, very big players — and the end result is that High Street across the world, specifically in tier 1 cities, is dull and boring.”

Hear more about what Showfields is working on by listening to Retail Leader’s full interview with Nathanel. Subscribe to Trend Talk wherever you listen to podcasts.