Retailers are sinking a lot of money into an omnichannel approach to selling fashion apparel and accessories, which involves investments in the supply chain in addition to related e-commerce expenses that include revamped Web sites, reconfigured fulfillment processes and improved inventory management.
But a big part of omnichannel retailing is the in-store experience, and that includes using various technologies — aka bells and whistles — to increase consumer engagement. For retailers and brands, getting the attention of shoppers is not as easy as it used to be. Things are changing, though. For department stores and specialty retailers in particular, there has been a noticeable shift toward use of digital displays, which are fast replacing static, printed images of products, brands and logos.
Of course TV displays have long been used at retail. But over the past few years, retailers and brands have started playing around with the placement of digital displays as well as the content. Instead of a flat-screen TV hanging on a wall or suspended from a ceiling, units in various sizes are integrated directly into merchandise displays. The digital displays and touch-screen devices are not only used to engage shoppers while in the store, but also for them to research products online and make additional, unplanned purchases.
And an important aspect of the in-store experience is integrating brand-specific content seamlessly between Web sites, mobile devices, apps, in-store displays and digital billboards — which is critical because consumers are bombarded with over hundreds of marketing messages a day, and it is difficult for brands and retailers to cut through the din.
There are other challenges too. The in-store retail experience often suffers from a “knowledge deficiency gap” — as Shelley E. Kohan, vice president of retail consulting at RetailNext, describes shoppers who research products online, but when they go into a store they encounter a less-informed sales associate, which sours their overall shopping experience. Then there’s the iPhone, and other mobile devices. Consumers are glued to mobile displays as they shop. With heads bent down and thumbs swiftly swiping screens, shoppers bump into one another as well as endcaps, mannequins and merchandise displays. So how does a retailer or brand grab their attention?
Tom Karren, founder and chief executive officer of Moki, which is a provider of cloud-based software for so-called “customer facing devices,” said shoppers distracted by their mobile devices “is one of the bigger problems” facing the in-store retail environment, “which is why we need to leverage the mobile technology that they love.”
Karren said since consumers embrace mobile devices and tablets in their personal lives and at home, it makes sense to put those devices in stores. “Retailers can use a tablet or other device in a fixed location — but not a TV on a wall,” Karren said. “Instead, position a tablet next to a product, or in a kiosk.”
Moki’s clients include Columbia Sportswear, Marriott and Hershey’s, which use mobile devices and tablets to transform a point of purchase into a “point of discovery.” North Face, for example, set up in-store kiosks that allow shoppers to explore products and consumer reviews online, which triggered sales and increased purchasing rates.
Last month, Moki launched a new version of its software that includes display and loop videos, Internet browsing and customizable themes, among other features. It also includes an analytics feature aimed at tracking shopper interactions, which can be used to inform merchandising and marketing strategies. Kiosks and mobile devices adjacent to products can also be used for in-store fulfillment.
Karren said retailers and brands need to “maintain evenness” aimed at creating a seamless experience for shoppers — meaning that the content and brand messaging are consistent in the eyes of the shopper. Eddie Krenik, ceo and founder of MagicInk Interactive LLC, agreed and said, “whether [the medium] is an e-mail, a Web site, on social media, direct mail or in the store itself, there must be consistency with the brand and content.”
MagicInk Interactive provides hardware, software and digital content for indoor retail displays, and was recently acquired by Panasonic for an undisclosed amount. The electronics giant saw the acquisition as a good fit for its digital display business. WWD spoke with Krenik during an in-store tour of Macy’s Herald Square.
“One way to grab the attention of shoppers is with digital displays that have engaging content,” Krenik said, adding that the primary outcome of the in-store experience must “be to deliver a transaction.” But what exactly does that look like? For Polo Ralph Lauren, it looks likes the Polo Sport display recently showcased at the 34th Street entrance to Macy’s.
Using props, mannequins and digital displays with animated graphics, the overall presentation is energized and theatrical. The mannequins are in action poses and don the brand’s activewear. The digital display runs a video loop with fast-paced edits, and features athletes wearing the apparel while working out. The entire merchandise display sits atop a one-foot high, circular stage. With the video content and the display’s prominent position at the entrance to the store, it captures a lot of attention. A similar design approach was used at the Polo Ralph Lauren flagship store on Fifth Avenue.
“Digital displays in the stores work best when they are front and center, and positioned adjacent to the product,” Krenik explained. “And it has to be stimulating.” In the men’s department, Krenik’s team created a Hugo Boss merchandise presentation that featured over a dozen digital flat screens that frame a collection of the brand’s dress shirts. The content that day included animations of the brand’s logo along with an aerial video of city scenes in stark black and white.
Krenik said the technology allows for instantaneous changes to the content, which is determined by the brand and/or retailer. If something is not working, swap it out, he said — and make it engaging. Indeed, the overall experience of in-store digital displays is frenetic, and designed to grab one’s attention while also reiterating a brand’s attributes. For example, Tag Heuer installed displays at Macy’s that featured digital displays with looping videos and close-ups of the products as well as images of globetrotter adventurers — think Indiana Jones — in various action scenarios.
In the fragrance department, digital displays were also used, and included glamor shots of models using various products. Other retailers such as Lord & Taylor, H&M and American Eagle Outfitters are also using more digital displays and digital billboards to engage shoppers. In markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, digital displays are now commonplace. Costs vary and can run from about $50,000 to over $300,000 depending upon the number of units, size and placement.
But what about for a retailer in a tertiary market such as Ohio or Tennessee? Krenik said the technology is scalable, and a brand can place a dozen displays in one location or just a few in another one. Moreover, swapping out content is faster, easier and less costly to retailers and brands compared to printed, static displays, which is labor intensive.
Aside from digital displays for use as a marketing and engagement tool, there is also growing adaptation of digital pricing screens, which have been around since 2012 and can be centrally changed by the retailer to reflect sales promotions or price changes. Kohl’s is using digital price tag displays in many of its stores with vendors such as Altierre and Pricer serving that market. Panasonic offers a Retail Powershelf, which is an electronic shelf label that connects directly to a retailer’s back-end system. Promotions and price changes can be done centrally. And the devices have a shelf sensor that can monitor inventory levels.
Meanwhile, outside the store itself, changes are afoot. Dana Telsey, chief research officer at Telsey Advisory Group, said with the proliferation of e-commerce and omnichannel retailing, “shopping centers themselves are forced to adapt to the changing retail environment.”
“While consumers have the ability to do all of their shopping from a computer, tablet or mobile device, shopping centers are looking for new ways to attract them to the properties,” Telsey said. That means offering more experiential activities, and perhaps reconfiguring shopping center layouts and streetscapes.