By  on February 9, 2005

NEW YORK — Past the floral arrangements and under the sprawling “roller-coaster” twig installation suspended from the ceiling, there’s a high-tech side to the Utowa store in Chelsea here.

Utowa’s plasma TVs show scenes of snow-covered forests and mountain peaks, as well as images of cosmetics and clips about designers, creating a fusion of fashion and technology, and a rare sensory retail experience.

Alongside the array of flowers, fashion, skin care, makeup, music, home products and accessories — largely a mix of Japanese products and new designers — are three flat-screen, 42-inch Panasonic plasma high-definition TVs. Four more are in a back room, hung like a row of pictures off the wall forming a media gallery.

The TVs are large, but not jarring, and are connected to a computer station on the mezzanine through wireless technology enabling Utowa to create the programming.

“They create a much more atmospheric retail environment,” said Eduard Duyos, the retail executive who runs the 3,000-square-foot single-unit business. “They’re pleasing and soothing for customers. They get all senses attended to.” 

Such “digital signage” is growing in popularity. That’s because the prices are coming down, about 25 percent each year, according to Panasonic, though there are other costs, such as installation and programming, that stores must consider. Panasonic says its prices range from $2,395 for a 37-inch screen to $15,995 for a 65-inch one.

Retailers know they need to enhance selling environments to spur traffic and business, and they acknowledge that people spend hours each day at home gazing into TVs and computers, and probably less time looking at humanity in the flesh. “We live in such a screen culture,” observed Linda Fargo, vice president of visual merchandising at Bergdorf Goodman.

However, that’s something retailers can use to their advantage. While giant chains such as Wal-Mart have for years incorporated cathode ray (regular-tube) TVs in their selling environments, more fashion-oriented retailers such as Macy’s, Saks Inc. and Victoria’s Secret are getting deeper into the new plasma technology of late. Other public arenas, such as the Smithsonian Institution, have begun testing the technology for commercial and marketing purposes.

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