Innovation is making the business of living more effortless and unstrained, whether it is through mobile phones, the Internet or other electronic appliances. But desires are never ending, and customers increasingly need more of handier technologies. They have become so captivated by technology that everywhere they go, whatever they do, they need them to be there to create an interactive atmosphere — whether it be watching a movie or shopping. That’s precisely how technology has found its ways into retail stores. That present situation is one in which such technologies are being deployed to add a cutting edge to Visual Merchandising. Welcome to the world of TechnoVM.
To understand how technologies are aids to the practice of enticing customers, it is required to comprehend the meaning of Visual Merchandising. I perceive everything that meets the eye of a customer – from the exterior to the last wall, from ceiling to floor of the store – as a part of VM. The way merchandise is displayed, SKUs (stock keeping units), colours and sequence blocks, lighting, windows, mannequins – everything is VM.
Today, the aim of VM is not only to beautify the store but also to make shopping easier for customers and portraying an unprecedented image of a retailer. Which begs the questions, what’s next, what can make a store distinct? Here come the new tools of VM apart from colour, lighting, texture, mannequins and other traditional aids to engender the much-used ‘wow effect’. Here are some technology applications that are being used:
Digital Signages & High Definition Screens: Digital media is more effective than traditional indoor banners simply because it is more focused; a retailer can tweak the materials to suit the target audience in a mall. A study conducted by Mintel in US shows that “customers visit stores with digital media twice as often as stores without it, spend an average of five per cent more time in stores with digital media and spend 10 per cent more money in stores with digital media. Also, the impulse purchase rate was twice the normal.” Furthermore Plasmas, LCDs, HDTVs etc have replaced the TV sets. Though the utility is still same, crafting an interactive and movable media (display) create enlivened vibes in the store.
Here’s An Example:
The overall mood of a Victoria’s Secret store is created by displaying vertical flowing petals and live fashion show on the walls using large screens. The glimpse of live fashion show, which is their brand identity, is the aid to the tools to create an ambience that speaks to their target customers.
Mobile Technology (SMS/ Bluetooth): New technologies enable advertisers to integrate SMS features into their signage displays. Each signage inside the store is tagged with a unique SMS code. Promoted by the ad, the consumer is immediately sent a message that could contain pricing information, product details or store near by him or her. Bluetooth also provides a way to connect and exchange information between devices like personal digital assistants (PDAs), mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and video game consoles. Bluetooth in a retail store allows the customers to gather additional information about products. Shopper can now download music, play video games, watch movie trailers. Signages can send digital coupons to cell phones and soon they may even start addressing customers by name as they did in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 futuristic film, Minority Report.
Nokia came out with its coolzone technology in 2005, allowing retailers to put a base station in the store and bring specific content to consumer with Bluetooth-enabled phones. With coolzone, retailers like music stores, phone shops and cinemas can offer promotional or paid content to the customers.
Touch Screens: A touch screen provides the means by which simply moving fingers one can get into an interactive world. These are ideal applications for delivering customer information, especially when they meet a shopper’s desire for speed and convenience. To give literal means to Window Shopping, fashion retailer Polo Ralph Lauren installed interactive window displays at its flagship store at Madison Avenue , New York and more recently at Michigan Avenue in Chicago , allowing its customers to shop 24 x7 from outside the stores even after the outlets had closed for the day.
Earlier this year, Polo Ralph Lauren launched this cutting edge technology in its New York flagship in conjunction with the company’s sponsorship of the 2006 US Open and highlighted the stylish apparel and accessories created exclusively for this renowned tournament. Products featured in the window shopping assortment included Official Polo Ralph Lauren/USTA ball boy/girl uniforms, linesman jackets, and the widely popular big pony polo shirts.
“After watching Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, I really wanted to find a way to make that amazing technology a retail reality. We are thrilled to offer such a unique and exciting way for our customers to further explore the world of Ralph Lauren; with this initiative we are reinventing the concept of shopping anytime,” says David Lauren, Senior Vice President Advertising, Marketing and Corporate Communications of Polo Ralph Lauren.
Projected on the window of the Ralph Lauren Madison Avenue store was a 67” image featuring the latest in touch sensory technology. Customers could shop even when the store was closed by clicking on the window glass. The touch screen was powered by a transparent foil applied directly to the glass; a rear projection screen was then used to complete the 67” through-window touch shopping experience. The window had a credit card reader and an onscreen keyboard to complete the transaction.
“This is an incredible and dynamic way for customers to experience the advanced precision of our RLX line,” says Lauren.
RFID Technology: It already exists in stores to capture POS data and track the stocked as well as merchandise sold. The new chapter in RFID however, has innovations that are embedded with digital displays and triggers product specific information. It allows customers to know about the product without waiting for a salesperson or searching for product specification by twisting and toying with product. The next chapter is also quite interesting and helps shoppers, especially women to choose what matches with what. A changing room concept is being developed by researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic Institute of Textiles and Clothing: “An intelligent Simulator for Cross-selling & Up-selling using Smart Fitting Room & Smart Dressing Mirror.”
RFID technology communicates with a system that can mix and match and suggest clothing options, which would be displayed on an interactive screen. In addition to that, if one would like to involve friends and parents who are at home in deciding what one should buy, PrevYou has developed and patented a virtual/real retail mechanism, which allows realtime connections between consumers and their friends via mobile and other Internet connected devices. Two potential applications are:
1)Consumers could use their mobile camera to upload images to a secure website that friends or family could access, and supply real-time feedback of the product in question.
2)Stores could build cameras into changing areas and a shopper could model her outfit for friends or family on a retail branded website.
Holography ‘Magic of diaphanous”: A major innovation in display technology. Hanging freely, giving a glimpse of what lies behind an inimitable display, it has ability to snatch a shopper’s attention. What if a holo image is created outside the store, which too is moving? Wowing the shoppers of Berlin , MediaZest together with German media Group Axel Spring brought the famous Kurfurstendamn to a virtual stand still with its brilliant holographic display at C&A’s flagship store, promoting a new range of lingerie. A life-size holographic image of a woman modelling the new “Selte 1 girl” lingerie dance appeared to interact with passers-by. The model, the lingerie and reactions of the passerbys could be seen on a webpage. One could vote from a list of 30 options on what the model should do next. The website periodically aggregated the votes and the model would then act accordingly.
Moving Mannequins: Moving MannequinsTM, a Los Angeles-based company, has developed mannequins that can move. In continuation to that, LocaModa, a Somerville, USA-based company has developed an interactive digital mannequin application, which allows consumers to customise a model’s clothes displayed on a large screen using a cell phone as a remote control. This technology works with any phone and any network and does not require the user to download any software.
IC Colour : A kinetic innovation developed by Illuminating Concepts to offer additional dimensions to video & digital signage displays. Using a software programme to control intelligent lighting fixtures, IC colour captures the aesthetic energy of a video source and translates it into a colour theme that saturates the surrounding area, enhancing the content and sensory stimulation.
Scent Technology: Providing the means to lead shoppers by the nose ScentAir Technologies has developed technology to help consumer brands sample the fragrance of new products. Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Kraft, MARS, Hershey’s, and General Mills are testing this new, patented technology. These companies are evaluating this scent technology for use at POP (point-of-purchase) in retail stores to spread the aroma of a product without having to open the package. As consumers walk by the product display there is a motion sensor that recognises their presence and a brief controllable scent is emitted at the product display, with a signage informing the consumer which product is emitting that aroma.
Interactive POS: POS marketing technology offered by San Jose , California.-based ReceiptCity.com Along with the line-item listing of purchases, the system flashes ads, onscreen coupons, information about in-store promotions, and messages to the customer that is checking out. Everything that the customer sees is targetted precisely to his/her own purchases – pet food ads go to people who buy pet food, diapers to those who buy diapers, etc.
Robots: With a whirl and a flash of lights, a robot whizzes to the restaurant table and takes a customer’s order, while a second races to another table to deliver plates of steaming food. This isn’t a scene from a science fiction book. Rather, it’s the daily routine at a new diner in a suburban Hong Kong shopping centre. ‘Robot Kitchen’ opened in July to cash in on the city’s love affair with gadgets, claiming to be the world’s first eatery staffed by machines. Chatbot, a new avatar of robotics can interact with people and give response to the shopper’s queries. Japan ‘s Aeon has emerged as the pioneer retailer to introduce a robot in its stores. The robot developed by Fujitsu, was launched in the retailer’s outlet in Yachiyo, where its main duties were to greet and escort customers. The robot is also capable of transporting customer’s bags according to information it receives through its touch-screen panel display or its voice recognition system. Through the display robot is also able to explain new products while guiding customers to various sections of the store.
I hope reading the above technologies made you dreaming of the day when you enter in a store and a robot will greet you by your name. This is the era of TechnoVM, which is dynamic and ready to response every single move of shopper. But, ultimately it will be the shopper who is will decide whether these technologies are going to give a “customer’s journey from notice to trial” kind of experience or will end up as just technology for the sake of technology.
References: Namrata Rana (2002), Images Retail, September ’02; www.ddimagazine.com, October ’06; www. marketing atretail.com, October 2006; sharkride.com, October ’06