NEW YORK — For luxury retailers, it was always about the product. Display it, and it will be bought.

Now, however, with the down economy taking its toll on sales, the attitude has changed. Product-driven luxury firms want to become more customer-centric and are seizing upon technology to help monitor shopping patterns, improve service and manage their ever-growing store networks.

The Prada flagship in SoHo, for example, last year activated an radio frequency identification system as a service feature enabling customers to see product information. When an associate scans the RFID tag on an item, information about colors, sizes and related styles pop up on a monitor.

Louis Vuitton and Armani Exchange just started installing video technology to discreetly monitor traffic entering the stores and at various locations inside, and to determine “conversion rates” — how many shoppers who enter the store actually buy something.

And Ferragamo has developed a new, sophisticated point-of-sale data system that allows the company to understand and service the customer better. “We’re testing it in Europe right now. The rollout in the U.S., where the company has 20 stores, will be in November,” said Dana Gers, Ferragamo’s vice president of marketing. It’s proprietary software, built by Ferragamo’s IT department.

“This coincides with the growth of our retail store network,” Gers said. “With a growing store network, you need to be more sophisticated. The system is designed to determine the response rate to mailings [and] measure cross-shopping across different categories in the store, like if silk customers are also shopping for shoes, or if special-size shoe customers buy shoes more often than those wearing regular sizes. It will also measure where customers are coming from, geographically and demographically.”

Based on the information attained, “We’ll develop specific [marketing] programs for them,’’ Gers said.

Façonnable, a division of Nordstrom, has five stores in the U.S. and about 30 abroad. Currently, the focus is on renovating its stores, though after 12 months the company expects to start integrating more sophisticated technology for capturing better data on sales and customers that could be used to tailor its offerings and marketing programs, according to Shawn McNally, director of U.S. marketing, Façonnable.“Today, no matter what the channel of distribution, no retailer can afford not to be more scientific,” said Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies, Kurt Salmon Associates. “Retailing is the youngest of the sciences, yet the oldest of the arts. Yet today, science is becoming much more important in the equation. There’s got to be a balance to all the marketing and the buzz. Getting the traffic is one thing. Converting traffic to sales is another. Unless stores know their benchmarks and actual experience, they have no targets to set for improvement.”

While several mass chains, such as Gap, have already installed tracking systems, luxury firms have just begun.

“Louis Vuitton is certainly the biggest and best-known luxury customer we are working with, but we are starting to get some other activity,” said Tad Shepperd, president of the Chicago-based ShopperTrak, which is installing its Orbit tracking technology at Vuitton stores globally, and phasing Orbit in at Armani Exchange stores in the U.S., along with some Ferragamo stores in the U.S. and Europe.

Like all designer retailers, “Vuitton is very concerned about the appearance of their stores, so the look of the Orbit technology has been customized,” Shepperd noted. “Although our product is pretty discreet, they wanted nothing showing on the ceiling whatsoever. Collectively, their building construction and real estate design groups worked with our technical design group to come up with a special enclosure in the ceiling that houses our technology and totally conceals it.”

The ShopperTrak device has a video camera and digital signal processor, both embedded in a 4-by-4-inch box, about the size of a smoke detector. The devices pick up size, speed, shape and direction, thereby distinguishing adults and children, and shopping carts, and whether people are headed in or out of the store. “There is no privacy issue,” Shepperd said. “We are not identifying individuals and we are not connecting them to transaction activity. It’s a generic head count.”

Each device costs about $3,500, though Louis Vuitton incurred higher costs to customize its ShopperTrak equipment. Some Louis Vuitton stores will install the boxes at entrances and inside the store to monitor traffic at different departments, while other units will just be monitoring traffic in and out of the store.In addition to supplying the technology to capture traffic information, ShopperTrak has an organization that manages the information, so traffic can be analyzed against sales data, selling staff, advertising and marketing efforts, merchandise changes, remodelings, layouts, adjacencies and other aspects of store operations that could be adjusted based on shopper traffic.

“By integrating ShopperTrak’s intelligence solutions into our global business strategy, we will ensure that the appropriate business data is readily available for making key decisions at both the store and corporate levels,” Cyrill Way, project manager for Louis Vuitton, said in a statement.

Prada’s SoHo store at 575 Broadway is heavily into technology to make shopping and servicing the customer easier. When customers hang clothes in the dressing room, information is automatically read and appears on a closet touch screen in the dressing room, so customers can access product information, just like when the associates scan the RFID tags. Currently, the system is only at Prada’s SoHo store, which is among the luxury firm’s most experimental sites.

“Prada in SoHo is a very large store. This technology enables the sales associates to save a lot of time. You don’t have to go back down to the stockroom,” said Katherine Ross, spokeswoman for Prada USA.

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