Next Store: Springing Forward with Digital Case Studies

Building a library of digital experiences breathes new life into retail strategy
Posted April 14, 2016

Spring is that proverbial time when the retail year is already well underway, and the hues of the season are permeating visual merchandising and in-store communications. It’s hard not to love this time of year, as Mother Nature delivers a fresh backdrop to customers’ expectations of the vibrant seasons ahead; the mind is primed for “new.”

We’ve also just wrapped up the annual Digital Signage Expo (DSE) and GlobalShop trade shows in Las Vegas, and the buzz around the latest digital tools is still dancing around our minds. Even with spring’s fresh energy upon us, upper management is still looking outward to gauge who’s doing what, and how they’ll showcase the season both traditionally and digitally. So utilizing and building a library of case studies will ensure your digital program is the freshest one around.

Great digital deployments are inspirational: They prove that store design, agencies and IT can actually come together to deliver a powerful environment for customers. I recall a recent trip to New York, where I’m always thinking, “This is the place, if any, to create best-practice examples.” A digital Forever 21 billboard – more than five years later later – still captivates thousands of consumers walking through Times Square. The interactive billboard has an amazing capacity to persuade shoppers to unintentionally turn their backs on the commercial businesses to face the signage. Quite brilliant, this concept demonstrates the power of extending a brand beyond the lease line with an innovative digital strategy. I’m frequently asked about external examples, and this is really a prime example, even ahead of the annual holiday windows in the Big Apple.

I was told by the project’s architect at Wildbytes (New York)the story of the first-ever large-scale interactive billboard in Times Square, and how it multiplied the amount of time people spent at the billboards by more than 20 times, on average. The project featured giant imagery of fashion models wearing Forever 21 apparel and interacting with the crowds of passersby in unexpected ways, like grabbing and kissing them, turning them into digital frogs, or taking virtual Polaroid pictures of them that are then displayed on the screen. The content is kinetic and can be quickly updated every season with new models, clothes and interactions. That means each season is “fresh” and prepared for the ever-changing weather conditions that impact retail in the city. After all, what retailer wants to showcase winter coats on a 65-degree day?

While most of us don’t have stores in Times Square, it is nevertheless an important example, proving digital interactions in store windows, or even on a façade, can create lasting brand extensions.

The beauty industry has been an early adopter of in-store and event-driven digital, with Sephora (Paris) making its mark as a clear-cut leader. During my recent trips to Singapore and New York, I’ve seen these retailers’ outposts demonstrate a strong balance of digital integration that complements the design, rather than dominating it. In these stores, digital feels like a perfect fit for their savvy, fast-paced clients and not an overwhelming presence.

Sephora’s recent European launch of the Kat Von D cosmetic brand, designed by the celebrity tattoo artist, required some extra innovation. Digital design firm Wildbytes created an integrated launch campaign that generated more than 90 million online impressions, reportedly making it the largest and most successful product launch in the history of the brand’s Spanish locations.

The campaign included a live, face-projected image-mapping performance. In essence, digital projection content adapted to Kat Von D’s movements during the live/online event, acted as a second layer of digital skin that could change seamlessly over the course of her performance. The show was enhanced by live, synchronized music, which pushed it to the next level. The event now serves as a best-practice example of digital mapping.

Porcelanosa (Villarreal, Spain) is a top hard surface supplier, and when it came time to create a new luxury showroom that would convey the elegance of the brand, they enlisted Foster+Partners (London) and Wildbytes. The goal was to create both an architectural gem and an innovative showroom that would utilize digital to demonstrate the many uses of the surfaces in commercial and residential applications.

The retailer turned to digital for two reasons: On the practical side, Porcelanosa has a massive product catalog, and even with a six-story showroom, displaying all of it in the space available was not feasible; digital gives them that flexibility. Secondly – and most importantly – they wanted the showroom to stand out, engage and express the forward-thinking nature of the brand.

Its two digital experiences have very different goals and concepts: An immersive 25-foot-tall, large-scale display is a purely aesthetic experience on the ground floor, which engages guests through an experiential “look book” featuring brand lifestyles in motion. Once the customers walk past this introductory experience and move to the cellar, they encounter a more intimate digital space consisting of an interactive video wall which allows them to customize their own Porcelanosa space. This offers a more in-depth knowledge of the brand and explores the possible applications of its products. The combination of digital experiences creates both a striking entrance and a memorable experience where guests can better get to know the retailer’s products.

It’s fascinating to see how brands employ digital in both traditional and nontraditional methods. These examples demonstrate that digital is not just about a screen, but instead an experience to connect the brand with its customers.

Brian is the director of digital strategy & experience design for Atmospheric Design Group, a strategy and design studio headquartered in New York. Follow him on Twitter @briandyches.