Tensational Global Brand Experiences of 2019

As the year comes to an end and we embark on a new decade, we want to celebrate 2019’s standout retail and hospitality experiences.

We’ve picked our top 10 break-through brand experiences and global examples in retail and hospitality that created a buzz this year. The following countdown showcases initiatives so undeniably innovative that we feel they’re worth sharing again. They truly are Tensational.

10. Nordstrom x Glossier, legacy retailer meets D2C darling – Houston, US

How could we have a 2019 countdown without mentioning Glossier? The brand’s rise to fame and stardom is nothing short of legendary, and digitally-native brands are continuing to disrupt the retail industry. One thing that prevails, though, is the need to build in-person relationships with customers, something that only offline retailing can support. Glossier’s most recent concessions in Nordstrom to sell one of its best-selling products, its Glossier You fragrance, respond to this need while hoping to drive footfall to the department store and attract a younger demographic.

Read our insights on how D2C brands are successfully creating offline brand experiences here.

Image courtesy of CNBC

9. Muji Hotel blurs the worlds of hospitality and retail – Tokyo, Japan
Muji tensational

Who better to make hospitality meet retail than lifestyle brand, Muji? The hotel has 79 rooms which evoke the brand’s values through minimalistic design, choice of materials and the inclusion of the brand’s own products and furniture, providing full brand immersion. Most importantly, the hotel’s strategic positioning above Muji’s global flagship allows guests to become customers and shop the products they enjoyed during their stay. Seamless.

Read about our award-winning hotel design for Watergate Bay Hotel here.

Image courtesy of Muji

8. Sustainable convenience at M&S Foodhall – London, UK

M&S has made sustainability a non-option with its collaboration with Infarm. The supermarket launched an urban farm on the shop floor, enabling customers to purchase herbs from vertical farming containers. Never before have urban city dwellers had the ability to see their fresh produce grown before their eyes without having to travel out of the city and driving up that carbon footprint. Following the pilot’s success, the concept will be rolled to six new central London stores. We’re looking forward to seeing if the scale can evolve the initiative beyond a showcase feature.

Read more about our recent visit to M&S’s Clapham Junction Foodhall here.

7. Learn and Play with Samsung KX – London, UK
tensational samsung

A store that’s a playground for product trial where staff encourage play and don’t push for sales: is this the new way to shop? We think so. Samsung’s store in the Coal Drops Yard development integrates products into the experience, encouraging exploration and elevating product trial. Customers can discover Samsung products through workshops, events or by just browsing and participating in in-store activities. At the end of the day, this holistic approach provides customers with product related skills and a deeper understanding, as well as connection, to the product and brand.

Read our column with Welltodo about making stores a place for product discovery here.

6. Aldi localises to cultural tastes – Shanghai, China
sensational global brand experiences of 2019

The era of standardisation and a one-size-fits-all attitude has ended, and brands are localising experiences beyond token gestures. When Aldi launched in China, the supermarket unveiled a new premium look and feel, completely different to its European stores. Customers can purchase a curated range of products optimised to local customers’ tastes, including a fish counter. There is a limited number of checkouts to encourage customers to scan and pay via WeChat. This allows Aldi to compete in China’s competitive tech-enabled supermarket industry.

Read our Hotlist about the rise of customisation in brand experiences this year here.

Image courtesy of Andrew Meredith / Echochamber 

5. Service-driven retail at Nordstrom – New York, US
Tensational Global Brand Experiences of 2019

Nordstrom has brought a luxury experience to everyone with its first New York flagship. Never before have customers been able to sip on a cocktail of their choice while browsing shoes with such convenience and ease. The seven-storey store seamlessly integrates F&B experiences on each of its levels, including Shoe Bar in the women’s shoe department. This shift from a sales- to service-driven approach sees click & collect, clothing alterations, shoe repairs, personal stylists and stroller cleaning services alongside these F&B extensions.

Find out how we used our emotiveye tool to drive out new F&B innovation for H&M here.

4. Sustainable convenience with Rent the Runway x W Hotels – Hollywood, US

It’s almost unbelievable that this gap in the market hasn’t been filled before now. Rent the Runway has partnered with Marriot’s W Hotel to create RTR Closet Concierge, the closet that checks in before you do. Guests can select items to rent curated for each of the four available US locations, which will await guests on arrival. Not only is this more sustainable than buying new clothes and more convenient than having to pack them, the brand collaboration is mutually beneficial. Rent the Runway is a major innovative player in its field, and its choice to partner with a massive luxury lifestyle brand whose brand mission and target audience align to its own is strategic.

Read back on our blog where we first identified service behaviours that sell here.

Image courtesy of W Hotels

3. Meaningful personalisation with John Lewis and DNA Nudge – London, UK

This is the first time that customers can act on meaningful personalisation in store, going directly from DNA test results to buying healthier products for their genetic predispositions. Customers take a DNA test in one of two John Lewis x DnaNudge pop up stores and within an hour are provided with a product-buying guide based on the results. Customers can access the personalised nutritional information by scanning items using the DnaNudge app or DnaBand wristband.

Read what our Exec Strategy Director and Household co-founder Michelle Du-Prât had to say about hyper-personalisation when she spoke to Raconteur this year here.

Image courtesy of DnaNudge

2. Starbucks Reserve Roastery, a larger than life experience – Chicago, US
tensational global brand experiences

With retail responding to customers’ sky-high expectations, elevated brands are launching theatrical experiences to stand out from the crowd. Starbucks’ Reserve Roasteries combine an end-to-end service experience. Customers see the coffee roasting process from bean to brew with awe-inspiring grandeur and seemingly endless services, creating a destination that offers the best of retail hospitality. The largest Reserve Roastery to date opened in Chicago this year. The store features the brand’s first whisky barrel-aged cold brew coffee and also serves pizza, alcohol and showcases alternative brewing methods.

Discover our key takeouts from the 2019 Retail Expo here.

Image courtesy of Starbucks

1. Hudson Yards, a placemaking destination – New York, US
Hudson yards 2019

Easily one of the most talked-about and ambitious projects of the year is Hudson Yards, New York’s newest and the US’s largest private real estate development. It divides opinion, as only the most impressive creations do. It makes our top ten because the place provides an experience of luxury and grandeur just by walking around. Senses are engaged with interactive art such as Tom Heatherwick’s sculpture The Vessel. Every type of retail, cultural and hospitality need is satisfied, leaving visitors with no reason to leave. This one-stop, multipurpose destination caters to people’s growing desire for moments of escape.

Read about our recent retail safari to Hudson Yards here.


What a year it’s been! Hudson Yards takes our top spot because it cut through, bringing together luxury experiences and destination mall retailing to create a one-stop placemaking destination. However, it’s far from perfect. In 2020, we want to see more integration, a more dynamic relationship between retail and hospitality. We’re excited to be driving the future of retail and being at the forefront of the innovation that 2020 will bring, evolving these #tensational trends throughout the new decade. Watch this space.

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