With 21,000 square feet of space and 15 unique themed-areas, the recently opened wizarding experience and flagship retail space houses the world’s largest collection of official Harry Potter merchandise across its three floors, with each respective floor designed top-to-bottom to transport visitors into a different part of the Harry Potter universe.
The store, whose launch was originally delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, currently employs a QR-based virtual queue to manage capacity and align with New York state health regulations. Visitors scan the QR code, located outside the store’s physical location right by the Flatiron building, and fill in their group details to sign up. The store then notifies customers when their entry time is coming up, and recommends visitors explore the city during the waiting period. The QR code is unveiled each morning at 7am (store hours are 10am – 9pm, six days a week, and 10am – 7pm on Sundays) and when booking is full for the day an alert goes out across the store’s Twitter and social media accounts.
The appointment based strategy not only builds anticipation, but the use of technology also hints at the coming interactive elements at play in the store and accessible through the official Harry Potter Fan Club app. Fans who have visited other Harry Potter franchise properties and experiences are likely familiar with the online home of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts, the WizardingWorld.com site, which migrated over from Pottermore in 2019, and offers personalized fan features such as an app-based Wizarding Passport, which holding the fan’s defining wizarding traits such as their Hogwarts house, their patronus, and their wand.
The Harry Potter fan club app has been deployed with high engagement and success across the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme parks inside Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Japan, and Universal Studios Hollywood, and the way it is used in the new New York store to gamify the retail experience borrows from these theme park learnings. Fans are able to use the app to scan “Enchanted Keys” hidden around the store and unlock a secret password and gift once they’ve completed the quest, while enjoying the Artificial Reality-based experience that takes place on the app when the “Enchanted Keys,” many of which are real props from the Harry Potter movie franchise, are scanned. The AR-powered journey and unique in-app activations take fans throughout the entire store and its 15 different themed areas, serving as a savvy way to increase customer dwell time while at the same time providing them with a valuable experience.
This mixture of magic and merchandising is at the heart of the New York store experience. Customers are greeted inside by a massive model of Fawkes the phoenix, an animatronic moving Griffin, elevators designed to look like they are part of the magical floo network wizards use for transportation, and a central spiral staircase right out of the Ministry of Magic, or Dumbledore’s office. The rich theming places the shopper “in-scene” during their store journey, with every architectural element designed to the same quality as a Harry Potter movie set, even the hallways and passageways between rooms providing a transportive, sensorial experience, in addition to serving as a backdrop for photos. By providing a vast array of highly designed instances for customers to linger over and in front of, including the display of well-known props from the movies such as the actual wands belonging to certain characters, a “real” golden snitch, and examples of Voldemort’s horcruxes like Tom Riddle’s Basilisk fang-pierced diary, and Ravenclaw’s diadem, the store experience is well positioned to convert browsing behavior into sales.
The Harry Potter franchise is no stranger to deploying the “image occasion” as a marketing and shopping tool, as evidenced by the “Platform 9 ¾” experience at King’s Cross Railway station in London, which has enjoyed considerable success and foot traffic over the past decade. And the New York store is no exception. Customers can step into Harry Potter’s half-giant companion Hagrid’s boots for a photo opportunity, pose with collectible Butterbeer mugs down in the Hogsmeade-themed Butterbeer bar, snap pictures inside an archetypal red British phone booth that may or may not transport visitors to the Ministry of Magic, or simply pose in front of any of the store’s other incredible features. Shopping bags are decorated to look like copies of the wizarding newspaper, The Daily Prophet, turning even the store’s exit into an Instagrammable moment.
The Harry Potter franchise has an incredibly passionate fan base, and those fans, especially the most passionate, all have their own favorite elements and features of J.K. Rowling’s magical wizarding world. The flagship store’s shop-within-a-shop model optimizes the retail experience by giving fans the opportunity to immerse themselves in their favorite parts of the Harry Potter story, while providing an array of tailored experiences and merchandise tied to that element.
Distinct shop-within-a-shops include Honeyduke’s, the famous Hogsmeade candy shop full of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frogs, and other famous sweets and confections drawn from the wizarding universe; and the Butterbeer Bar, another Hogsmeade offering, offers three types of Butterbeer available (bottled, on-draft, and an ice cream version). There is a jewelry area; a bookshop with bricks designed to match the ones at King Cross Station; a Dark Arts section with a hanging, hissing version of Voldemort’s snake familiar Nagini overhead; a localized display of New York and Harry Potter New York merchandise; a display of more magical items and apparel sorted by the four Hogwarts Houses; and a “Forbidden Forest” store featuring merchandise and props from the Fantastic Beasts universe.
One of the more popular shop-within-a-shops is the Wand Shop, which transports shoppers to the famed Olivanders on Diagon Alley allowing them to pick their own wand out from more than 50 different varieties all inspired by characters, locations, and props from the wizarding world. The Harry Potter New York store even has its own exclusive wand, the Golden Snitch wand. Harry Potter characters make appearances on a screen inside the shop, subtly adjusting their posture in a way reminiscent of the magical moving photographs from the books and films. The Wand Shop’s exit features an interactive “dueling orb” experience for customers to try their new wand out against their favorite (or least favorite) Harry Potter characters.
The flagship store also has two separate areas that require either a wait or a ticket: the “Things Which Must Be Named” personalization shop, which currently has a waitlist for access, and the two ticketed virtual reality experiences, Chaos at Hogwarts” and ““Wizards Take Flight,” both of which are sold out with new tickets coming on sale at the beginning of every month. The personalization shop allows customers to personalize their wizard robes, quidditch jerseys, wands, and certain other Hogwarts merchandise and accessories. Shoppers can also buy customized trunks crafted to resemble those used by Hogwarts students for travel on the Hogwarts Express, each of which contain a selection of exclusive souvenirs and collectibles.
The two ticketed VR attractions bring a sense of what visitors to the Harry Potter theme parks can expect, serving as a way to cross-sell the extended Harry Potter wizarding world. “Chaos at Hogwarts” lets shoppers cast spells with their wand as they help Dobby the house elf right his wrongs after accidentally letting a case full of magical creatures loose in Hogwarts Castle; while “Wizards Take Flight” gives fans the experience of flying through the London skies on a broomstick, battling Death Eaters with Hagrid on their way to Hogwarts, where once having arrived safely, they can learn how to play quidditch. Each VR experience runs for about 45 minutes, and the content is set to change out every couple of months.
One of the last stops in the store is the House of MinaLima located in the cellar. MinaLima is the London-based design studio that created many of the props for the “Harry Potter” and “Fantastic Beasts” films, and the studio’s eye-catching storefront is full of easter eggs and fun surprises for fans, serving as a “how it’s made” museum-style companion to the movies distinctive visual character. The floor is covered by a recreation of the Marauder’s Map, and the walls are decorated with the Black family tree. Visitors can see the Dursleys' fireplace overflowing with Hogwarts letters just like in the first movie, as well as take in all the other familiar details like massive wanted posters for Harry Potter and Sirius Black. The House of MinaLima serves as a great teaser for the coming Harry Potter: The Exhibition experience global tour, which is slated to open in 2022 at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, and will celebrate the films and stories of the Harry Potter Wizarding World through beautifully crafted environments honoring the iconic moments, characters, settings, and beasts as seen in the films and stories, including authentic props and original costumes.
In conclusion, PSFK researchers realized the store employees and floor associates embodied the Harry Potter flagship’s commitment to the magic of the franchise and universe of the books and movies just as much as the official props, themed decorations, and immersive shop-within-a-shops. Each employee we encountered was, without exception, equally as enthusiastic and passionate about the Harry Potter wizarding world as the customers. The immersion and integration of innovative and awe-inspiring magical touches throughout the store’s spellbinding experience wouldn’t be possible without them. For shoppers and brand fans, the Harry Potter flagship store is truly one of the most magical retail experiences that can be found in NYC, let alone the U.S., right now.