The Epicenter of Retail Innovation

By Daniel Hodges

Retail in 2020 has entered a new phase, and there’s no going back.

For over two centuries, New York City has been the epicenter of global retail innovation. In fact, one could say that modern retail began in New York City in 1818 with Brooks Brothers which was a family business. Brooks Brothers was followed by entrepreneurs Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor who reimagined the retail experience, opening the first luxury department store (Lord & Taylor) in1826. In 1837, brash young Charles Lewis Tiffany, then just twenty-five years old, borrowed a thousand dollars from his father and (with partner John B. Young) founded Tiffany & Co. Of course, the innovations didn’t end there. In 1858, Rowland Hussey Macy opened his first dry-goods shop; and in 1872, Joseph and Lyman Bloomingdale launched their eponymous emporium selling chic European wares. In 1899, Henri Bendel followed the example of the Bloomingdale brothers, as did Herman Bergdorf and Edwin Goodman. Barney’s came along in 1923, followed by Saks Fifth Avenue a year later. Nor did the parade stop there. Modern-day entrepreneurs continue to build on the city’s visionary tradition, changing on an almost daily basis the face of global retail.

Although smartphones and the internet have altered the customer journey, bringing retail into another new phase, the fundamentals for success have remained the same. Amazon and others have played a valuable role in creating a playbook for online success, but the core fundaments of retail haven’t changed. According to “The Seven Habits of Successful Retailers,” a research study conducted by Retail Store Tours, retailers still need to focus on these seven elements:

  • The human touch
  • Employee training
  • The use of technology to enhance the customer journey
  • Store design
  • Brand story
  • Unique value proposition
  • The ability to change

(A fuller description can be found at

Some prognosticators have suggested that retail is, or soon will be, dead. But I just don’t see it. Show me. I’d be open to empirical evidence that retail is in decline, but all the evidence I see indicates just the opposite; and when I visit places like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Hudson Yards, or American Dream, I don’t leave dispirited. I leave energized. Shoppers will decide for themselves the fate of retail. But I think what will soon be dead, or at least passé, will be all this talk of retail’s demise.

Find out for yourself. Visit one of the shopping districts listed below on your next trip to New York City, and you’ll see what I mean.



Merging Brick-and-Mortar with Digital

The newest shopping center in the city, Hudson Yards represents the state of retail today. A vertical mall that’s easy to navigate, it’s a remarkable riff on the concept of New Retail pioneered in China by Alibaba founder Jack Ma. From out-of-the-box mindfulness to participatory experiences to luxury brands reinventing themselves, Hudson Yards offers in a single structure the best of what leading-edge retail has to offer.



Visionary Innovation Meets Savvy Reinvention

Nowhere is the scale and diversity of retail more pronounced than in SoHo, known worldwide for its innovative artistry and artfulness. Here, retail is unbound, spilling all over the streets in a kaleidoscope of forms. Side by side with iconic stores are avant-garde pop-ups that won’t be around tomorrow. The randomness is inspirational, and it adds to the neighborhood’s excitement.



Lessons from the Best

There’s a reason that Nordstrom’s has been in business for 118 years: its corporate leadership understands the importance of keeping store executives focused on the customer journey. The same is true for the other iconic retailers that crowd midtown Manhattan. This tour shows you the ins and outs of how these retailers have made it to the top and managed to stay there. It highlights the latest innovations in store design and offers insights into the ideas, influencers, and thought processes behind their conception.



Every Store Has a Story

This survey of the Oculus district, which is comprised of the Westfield World Trade Center & Brookfield Place, takes you on a tour of the recent history of retail disruption. We’ll escort you to the Apple Store, which pioneered evaluating staff based on kindness and empathy. We’ll take you to Casper Sleep, which found a way to compress mattresses into boxes. We’ll stop by the stark AmazonGo, which has done away with checkout, and then take in the voluptuous Eataly, where children take cooking classes while the store sommelier educates parents on the latest Tuscan reds.



The Future of Retail

A world-class retail and entertainment destination, American Dream is redefining the customer experience in shopping and leisure with a unique combination of retail, dining, technology, entertainment, and attractions—all in one location. The retail stores open in March 2020.


Daniel Hodges is the founder and CEO of Retail Store Tours ( RST’s expertise is curating for its clients information on innovations and trends in the rapidly changing retail world.

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