Something Special About Sonos’ New Experiential Store

Is it too soon to be talking about “the great bricks-and-mortar comeback”? It seemed like only last year when all we were reading about was how the future of retail was ecommerce, that the high street was dead, and the only way to survive was to dismantle the bricks and build-up the clicks.

But, to take a lesson from the great mathematician-philosopher Bertrand Russel, when we really start to look at the possible futures for retail, what is borne out when ask ourselves only: “What are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out?”

Amazon. Warby Parker. Bonobos. ModCloth. Canada Goose. Rent the Runway.

Here are just a few facts. Here are just a modest selection of brands and initially online-only companies that have turned to bricks-and-mortar in recent years – and have done so at a time when we’re being told that clicks are the only way forward.

And now we have another much-celebrated brand turning itself into a high street retailer – Sonos.

Listening Rooms

The consumer electronics company – famed for its manufacturing of smart speakers – opened its first ever retail store last year in Manhattan’s SoHo neighbourhood, NYC. Joining music producer, composer and Sonos Sound Experience Leader Giles Martin at the grand opening were a host of artists and special guests. El-P, Rakim, Miss Info, Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Nancy Whang (LCD Soundsystem), Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio), Walter Schreifels (Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand) to name but a few had all turned up for the occasion – something special must have been happening. It was.

Indeed, to call the Sonos flagship a “retail store” would be so under-representative of the fully-immersive custom-built experience that it is, as to almost qualify as an insult.

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Inside, those first special guests – and every shopper since – were welcomed towards seven state-of-the-art Sonos Listening Rooms. What are these? Resembling miniature houses – each furnished and decorated to represent different styled homes – the Sonos Listening Rooms are effectively ‘sound pods’, built with four layers of acoustic sheet rock and a steel-framed glass door to ensure sounds are contained within the individual space.

What this means is that customers are not bombarded with rows upon rows of products with competing sounds and music blasting from every corner. Instead, shoppers can snuggle up in the comfort of a listening room – much like visiting a friend’s house – and intimately learn the smart speaker system’s capabilities and soak up the music without cacophony or distraction. What better way to make shopper’s fall in love with your chief products? As Napier Lopez says in TNW, “It kind of makes the Apple Store look like a radio shack.”

Recreating the Home Experience

A big hurdle for Sonos in the past has been that people think that its systems are hard to use. In many ways, the new SoHo store has been created to put paid to that assumption. Giving customers the chance to come inside and play with the smart speakers for themselves – in the privacy of their own listening room, no less – they quickly realise that, much like most modern consumer tech, it really is quite simple once you get the hang of it.

But the highly-stylised sound pods also play another important function – they resemble home interiors. “People buy Sonos because they usually listen on it at their friends’ house. We really want to recreate that home experience,” said Joy Howard, CMO for Sonos. “When people want to buy a sound system for their home, they really want to hear it and touch it first. They just cannot do that online.”

Check out more of what she has to say in this short clip from Digiday.

The store also features original artwork and décor from artists such as London-based French illustrator Thibaud Herem, New York-based decorative painter Mark Chamberlain, and New York cartoonist Mark Stamaty. Towards the rear, there’s also the “Wall of Sound”, which Sonos says is the centrepiece artwork, comprised of 297 speakers and acoustic foam. It’s all very cool, very stylish, very Sonos.

The Future of Bricks

So, what is the truth that the facts are bearing out? Sonos hopes that its first store will help the brand build a deeper and truer relationship with its customers. And, if it helps the brand improve the customer experience and drive more sales, the plan is to open more stores across the US.

As Amazon plans to expand its physical footprint, and the likes of e-tailers like Bonobos opening showrooms to boost online sales, and now a manufacturer like Sonos turning its hand towards high street retail, it seems that bricks-and-mortar is by no means a thing of the past. Rather, it’s futuristic stores like the Sonos flagship that are set to keep retail alive, with enhanced customer experiences beating the path towards its future.

The last word goes to Dmitri Siegel, Sonos VP of Global Brand.

“When your mission is to fill every home with music and the best way to experience your products is in the privacy of someone’s home, you need think differently about how you bring that outside the walls of a home. The Sonos store gives us the opportunity to recreate the intimate home experience and really hear what Sonos can do.”

Don't miss Whitney Walker from Sonos at Future Stores 2017. Keynote: Applying Customer-Centric Store Design From Concept to Execution.

Make sure to also download the Future Stores agenda to check out all of the great activities, speakers, & sessions planned for this year.

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