With Technology, a Tailored In-Store Experience Becomes Reality

In today’s brick-and-mortar, retail technology is a hot topic. At a recent event hosted by the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech, they took it a step further by bringing Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) into the conversation. The keynote speaker, Annie Eaton, CEO of Futurus, took a deep dive into how various retailers are using the technology to create an immersive shopping experience.

The path to creating that immersive experience came shortly into Annie’s presentation when the conversation shifted to engaging individuals’ senses. Immediately, some folks were excited about the story Annie was telling while others were a little skeptical. But in its simplest form, VR and AR is about engaging individuals senses in a deeper way. Use VR headsets as an example. By themselves, they are pretty cool, but the function of this hardware is to create an engaging environment through the engagement of an individual’s visual and auditory senses. Then Annie shared examples of IKEA’s new AR app that allows shoppers to visually place IKEA products into someone’s personal home and how 19 Crimes allows wine lovers to see and hear the story of a criminal’s past from the actual wine label. It didn’t take long for the skepticism to disappear and be replaced with a clear understanding that immersive experiences are possible in any environment.

The following are 6 levers discussed during the ATDC event and how to leverage them in an immersive in-store experience:

Audio

What an interesting place to start…audio? Maybe it doesn’t seem as important as some other tools, but in many ways, audio is the difference between a positive and negative experience. Just ask Disney about the It’s a Small World ride. Like it or dislike it, the audio is a key piece of their immersive experience.

In retail, audio could be the most powerful tool. Besides just piping music into the store, audio is a great way to capture someone’s attention. Activating a sound or changing the music at just the right time is a way to capture and direct someone’s attention to a specific area of the store or create a feeling within a shopper. Could you imagine hearing the opening to “We Will Rock You” as you walk past the football or soccer jerseys of your local sports store?

2D/3D Art

Ok, now we’re getting into AR/VR…2D and 3D art. It sounds amazing and could be amazing. How real is it though? Without the right kind of device and/or headgear, 3D is a challenge, but 2D is happening every day in brick-and-mortar. We may not call our in-store advertising art, but that’s exactly what it is. What matters is the quality of that art.

Physical displays and merchandising is still the norm, but framing a digital display within a kiosk or area of the store is a great way to up the game. If you’re really sophisticated, displaying content tailored to the shopper profile creates a unique experience. For example, take someone like Kiehl’s who actually puts a frame around some of their digital displays and provides content to their shoppers as they walk in the door.

Story Telling

Ask any marketer in any industry, and they will all agree that everything they do is about story telling and taking people on a journey. Even this blog is about telling a relevant story to the reader that causes them (aka you) to think more seriously about the in-store experience. If it’s successful, the individual is more likely to take the next step in the buyer’s journey.

A perfect example is Bonobos’ famous guide shops. Not long ago, this retailer was an eCommerce giant, but they’ve mastered story telling in their stores, designed to take shoppers on a journey – work with a knowledgeable associate, find the right fit, and walk out hands-free. Yes, you heard it right…all purchases are done electronically and shipped home. It’s an experience, not an exercise, in shopping. It’s also been highly successful with Bonobos recognizing 5 times the revenue per square foot of other men’s clothing stores.

Hardware and Software Design

This is really two different tools in the immersive experience, but many times one doesn’t work well without the other. Some might argue physical hardware, demos, or displays are a good stand-alone solution, which is true, but for a truly immersive experience, it’s a mix of the two.

One great example is Mizuno’s Experience Center in Battery Park near the Atlanta Braves’ stadium. For the avid golfer, they are able to hit golf balls onto a screen that creates a virtual experience of being on a golf course while also analyzing your swing to identify the perfect clubs. These kinds of experiences are becoming more and more common because of its success in creating an immersive experience.

Creative

Last but definitely not least is the creative. Creative by itself is minor, but when combined with each of the other five levers, it’s hugely important. We’ve all read bad stories, seen bad art, and experienced poor audio. Heck, can we all agree elevator music should be banned unless it’s AC/DC?

It’s the creative that differentiates one retailer from another. What if Kiehl’s put their displays into a cheap frame and shoppers could see the monitor and wires? What if Bonobos’ associates first question was “what do you want?” or the design of the store included 1970s shag carpet? How about if Mizuno’s virtual golf game looked like it was an old Atari game? Albeit Atari is still pretty awesome, it’s probably not the immersive experience shoppers are looking for.

The most immersive experiences are those where brick-and-mortar retailers incorporate technology and leverage multiple tools to engage shoppers. What will you do to create that tailored experience?