Digital & Social Media

When High Fashion Goes High Tech

When High Fashion Goes High Tech
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Campaign: Fashion boutique Rebecca Minkoff is launching digitally powered stores across the U.S. in collaboration with online retailer eBay. The shops feature tech to make the customer experience slicker – and the retailer more knowledgeable about how people shop.

When shoppers enter the store, they’re greeted by a touch screen offering free drinks. Shoppers can order water, tea, coffee, or espresso in exchange for their phone number, and they receive a text as soon as their drink is ready.

The screens can also be used to browse merchandise or request items to try on. When they’ve found items they like, shoppers can opt to receive a text message notifying them when a changing room is ready. Infrared sensors in the ceiling keep tabs on how people respond to the screens, using body position and the time spent in front of then to work out which images are most effective at different times of day.

Once shoppers have gone through to the fitting room, RFID-enabled tags track which items they try on and provide the shop with real-time stock levels. A touch-screen mirror, powered by Microsoft’s Kinect technology, allows customers to request more items or ask for assistance, and it suggests other clothes or accessories that go well with the item they’re trying on. Clothes can be purchased directly from shop assistants, who are equipped with iPads to help shoppers check out from anywhere in the store. The tablets also allow staff to monitor data from across the store, keeping better tabs on customers’ movements and purchase behaviors.

The first of the connected stores is opening this month in New York, with a second San Francisco location opening by the end of the year. The brand has additional store openings in Los Angeles and Tokyo scheduled for 2015.

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Contagious, FleishmanHillard’s Peterson Weigh In

Contagious: Minkoff’s effort is an example of a broader trend we’ve seen of retailers fusing digital into offline shopping. Luxury brand Burberry launched Burberry World in London in 2010, turning its flagship British shop into a digital playground in order to inject excitement into the luxury experience. And startup Hointer demonstrates a similar commitment to understanding customers through digital means, innovating its fitting rooms by switching shop assistants for tech that delivers clothes straight to the dressing room.

All of these examples show brands attempting to make the offline experience a little more exciting, as well as a little more seamless, ensuring that they turn offline shopping into an experience that’s more magical than ordering from ASOS, but just as simple.

Minkoff’s new stores are mutually beneficial for both the shoppers and the brand, helping to ease customer pain points (such as the awkward half-dressed changing room dash to find a sales assistant), while also helping the retailer to understand the parts of the offline purchase journey that were previously invisible. And being able to mine this data could prove useful for both buyer and seller. After all, if stores can monitor what people are trying on and discarding, they can funnel this data back into the stock management, and even garment production. If a black dress, for example, is the most popular item taken into the dressing room, but is never actually being purchased, the store can start to investigate the reasons why.

Crucial to the success of the stores, however, will be the ability to ensure the technology helps rather than hinders. The Apple store’s payment functionality, which similarly allows shoppers to pay with the shop assistant rather than at the till, is an example of a brand getting this just right, helping shoppers to shop whenever they’re standing in the store without burdening them with complicated digital barriers to entry. As long as Minkoff focuses on substance over style, the smart store could prove similarly slick.

Candace Peterson: I used to think Black Friday was a national holiday. In recent years, it’s been ousted by Cyber Monday. Something about being able to knock out an entire list of Christmas presents for aunts, uncles, cousins and the ever-growing gaggle of nieces and nephews during the lunch hour is nothing short of nirvana. That said, nothing could really substitute for the magic that is shopping offline. And while I’ll no doubt pause to take in the holiday window at Barney’s, there’s a new shiny object vying for my attention this holiday season: the digitally powered store.

Question is: Will I bite?

For me, shopping is both an art and a science (no, really). Research actually has proved that women actively interact with products in store, turning them over and examining them before making a final decision. But does that high-touch experience translate to digital? Minkoff’s digital store aims to do just that. Founded on an understanding that shopping is a cognitive, multisensory experience, the new stores offer a unique blend of high tech and high touch.

While I’ll likely still want to run my fingers across the racks versus swiping a screen, an RFID-enabled tag on some sweater I may try on that could interact with the store to recommend a matching belt nearby would be a good way to up my basket ring. And it would be one way technology could bring a shopper high touch in a way that’s helpful, not hindering. But beyond the espresso and the accessorizing suggestions, I think they have something groundbreaking in the ability to bring shoppers closer to the brand simply by better connecting them to the things they want. So, if Rebecca Minkoff can also funnel data to find a way to make my backside look better in jeans, count me as a lifelong fan.

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About the author

This article was syndicated from Contagious Feed, an indispensable resource to the marketing communications industry focusing on competitive intelligence, best practices, new technology and consumer behavior. In addition to the flagship quarterly publication, app and Feed, Contagious has developed a consultancy and a series of world-class conferences, including its annual Most Contagious event.

Candace Peterson, a member of FleishmanHillard's Dallas office, brings nearly 20 years of international marketing experience. She has served as executive creative director, consumer engagement and new business director for some of the ad world's biggest players, including Ogilvy & Mather, J. Walter Thompson, TracyLocke and The Marketing Arm. Her marketing experience spans many verticals, including technology, consumer packaged goods, telecommunications and gaming.