Digital retail experiences: opportunities and trends

Integrating the physical world with digital technology (and vice-versa) is one of the most interesting and opportunity rich territories of our age, and where a lot of the most important work in our industry will be done over the coming years.

I’ve been looking forward to exploring this space with a series of posts for a while, and decided to start with digital in the retail environment.

However, while I’ve taken my sweet time writing this post PSFK came out and released this fantastic presentation on the future of retail.

That’s kind of what I was looking to do here, except way more comprehensive and beautifully produced. Definitely check it out.

I think this post takes a slightly different angle and includes a variety of examples you might not have seen, so hopefully you’ll still get something out of it.

I’ve approached this by looking at how brands are integrating digital to enhance and augment the retail experience throughout the customer journey, broken into seven steps:

  1. Drawing the customer in: engaging shop windows
  2. Ambient in-store interaction, engagement, entertainment
  3. Providing a richer product experience through RFID, shotcodes and augmented reality
  4. Digitally supported sales consultation and advice
  5. The evolution of the fitting room: augmented reality browsing and customization
  6. Facilitating social shopping: getting a second opinion in real-time
  7. Before you leave: digitally-enabled value adds

1. Engaging shop windows

The digital retail experience starts before customers have even entered the store. Here’s a range of examples illustrating how shop windows are increasingly reactive, interactive, and even commerce enabled.

Levi’s interactive windows

Although digital windows are becoming more and more commonplace and most examples are from recent years, I thought it was worth starting with some history. Levi’s was a pioneer in the interactive at retail space, working with experience legends Antirom to create a variety of multimedia kiosks for their flagship stores stretching back to 1995.

In this example from 1998, passers-by could interact with sensors on the glass to control the content displayed on plasma screens inside the windows of the flagship Regent Street store in London, 24 hours a day.

Levi Strauss & Co. Interactive Shop Window (1998) — Playpen.jpg

Esprit Mirror Mirror

Esprit borrowed from Disney mythology to create their “Mirror Mirror” installation, where a fairy godmother calls out to passerbys to brush away some snow from a mirror. The magic mirror then takes a photo of the shopper which is superimposed onto a virtual mannequin.

From there the product experience begins, with the now hooked-in shopper able to apply various outfits to their virtual self, including professionally designed haircuts and 50 items from Esprit’s current range.

The styling process results in a “model card” which is projected in-store, allowing the shopper to find and purchase the items they’ve selected. The model card could also be accessed from a mobile site using a custom QR code displayed in the shop window, and from there shared on to the Esprit Facebook page.

Tommy Hilfiger Collage

At their Trinity Street store in Dublin, Tommy Hilfiger offered window shoppers the opportunity to capture and stylize an image to submit to a collage being streamed in-store, as well as projected onto a series of high-profile buildings in Dublin.

In a nice commercial twist, at the end of the campaign, participants could return to the store to pick up a T-shirt printed with their custom design.


Top Chef Text to Win

At the NBC Experience Store in Rockefeller Centre, a promotion for Top Chef offered passerbys the chance to win up to $5,000. Simply send a text from your phone to the shortcode to set the slot machine spinning, with your prize details texted back to your phone.


Elle MacPherson Intimates interactive window

Elle MacPherson went with a simple but eye-catching digital installation, using the movement of people walking by or standing in front of the windows to reveal the video display.

Selfridges augmented reality Tissot demo

Watch brand Tissot built an augmented reality app for their website that allows shoppers to quickly and virtually try on a variety of watches from their homes, without ever setting foot in a shop.

Selfridges and Tissot then partnered to bring the experience to Selfridges’ window display on Oxford Street. Street teams handed out wristbands that activate the experience, and the interactive window display allowed customers to try on the watches, explore watch features and see related videos, before heading in store to try it for real.

Hugo Boss augmented reality window

Fashion brand Hugo Boss also went the augmented reality route for its Black Magic interactive window.

A promotion in London dailies the Stylist and Shortlist drove customers to the Hugo Boss store at Sloane Square, where customers could activate a fashion show in the window with their flyer, and then take it in store to try their luck at a game of virtual blackjack for the chance to win shopping vouchers.

Gimmicky yes, but it fulfilled their goal of garnering attention and driving footfall.

Thomas Cook real-time signage

Although markedly less flashy than the preceding examples, Thomas Cook is using their digital signage in a way that is practical to the brand, and something I expect we’re going to see a lot more of: displaying real-time information.

The travel brand installed in-window digital signage in 80 locations across the UK, allowing Thomas Cook to centrally produce and locally update everything from last minute travel deals through to the latest packages on offer.

2. Ambient in-store interaction, engagement, entertainment

Once you’ve been hooked into the store, digital installations will engage, immerse and entertain you, enticing you to stay and shop.

Intel’s holographic glass display

Intel recently began demoing a proof of concept for something they’re calling “Intel Intelligent Digital Signage”, which may be the most advanced in-store display platform of it’s kind.

It’s a 7-foot-6-inch LCD display with holographic glass that features a plethora of interactive options, allowing shoppers to browse merchandise, read customer reviews, submit their own feedback on products, discover promotions, and share finds with their friends via social and mobile integration.

As if that wasn’t enough, an integrated camera is able to determine gender and age of the viewers, and based on time-of-day and other criteria can dynamically display targeted content. It even stores the interaction with that content along with anonymized demographic data and sends that back to the advertisers.

Intel_s Touch-screen, AR-Packed, Digital Ad Display Almost Isn_t Fair | Fast Company.jpg

S. Oliver

The fashion company s. Oliver has installed screens in their waiting room areas that recognise the sex of the viewers and display films accordingly.

Orange interactive video wall

Mobile brand Orange’s flagship store in Milton Keynes features a massive 4 x 2.5 metre videowall with a number of interactive features.

First was a Mexican wave concept, where store visitors were invited to have a video of them doing the wave on a mobile phone, which would then be uploaded and posted onto the wall along with other wave contributors. When visitors walked by the wall LED sensors would trigger the multi-person wave, effectively saying hello and goodbye to people.

When the wave wasn’t being activated, an ambient ‘Picture Clock’ display would feature photos submitted by residents of Milton Keynes via a UGC website, matching up photo submission times with the current time of the day.

Adidas SLVR

Adidas asked UK design agency Spotspot to imagine a launch space for their SLVR brand. The resulting concept speaks to the potential depth of interactive digital installations in future retail spaces, with connected and responsive digital displays embedded throughout the environment.

Spotspot | interactive objects for commercial and public spaces | interactive retail experiences | – Adidas SLVR launch-1.jpg

Spotspot | interactive objects for commercial and public spaces | interactive retail experiences | – Adidas SLVR launch-2.jpg

3. Providing a richer product experience

Once you’re shopping, digital technology including shotcode, RFID tagged product and reader displays, and augmented reality are able to provide a wealth of detail around the product you’re interested in, from related products, to reviews, to promotions.

Procter & Gamble RFID Retail

One of the key opportunities in digital retail lies in the fact that increasingly products are being created with embedded digital information via technologies such as RFID.

From a retail perspective, one example of how that could be powerful comes from P&G, in partnership with German retailer Metro Extra.

P&G tagged products at this store with RFID tags, with Metro installing digital displays on the shelfs that were capable of reading these tags and displaying contextual messaging. So if a customer picked a bottle of shampoo off the shelf, the display would recommend the best conditioner to match.

Displays that were used for advertising only might get ignored fast, but imagine if the display were used to bring to life product benefits, instructional details, or even value-based messaging like that around the brands cause marketing initiatives.

Ralph Lauren QR codes

The RFID displays from P&G and Metro Extra are quite a way off from being commonplace, and are quite intrusive on some levels. Another way to go about enabling a deeper product dive is to simply provide a shotcode along with the product, like Ralph Lauren experimented with at their Union Square store in New York.

A touchscreen window display allows shoppers to browse the collection, and select products for purchase via QR codes, sending those purchases directly to a mobile commerce shopping cart.

Another way of implementing this would be to implement QR codes in the retail tags, allowing shoppers to get more information about any product, or to save it for later consideration or purchase.

store_window.jpg (485×310).jpg

Lego kiosk

One of the earliest examples of augmented reality was Lego’s in-store kiosk. The idea is simple — hold up the box to the kiosk, and you can see what the assembled product will look like.

4. Digitally supported sales consultation and advice

The shop assistant can use digital technologies as well to help you evaluate and compare your choices.

Diesel Ginza Interactive Mirror

At Diesel’s store in Ginza, an interactive mirror was designed to enhance the communication between the sales assistant and the shopper. A digital camera can snap photos of up to six outfits, allowing the shopper and salesperson to compare them against each other.

5. The evolution of the fitting room

Once you’ve got some items picked out, augmented reality fitting rooms enable rapid browsing and colour selection.

Adidas augmented reality t-shirt shopping

This sounds complicated but there is an idea in here so bear with me.

In five Asian cities, Adidas ran a print campaign encouraging readers to take a snapshot of an ad with their phone, and then take the snapshot at retail.

Once at retail, customers headed to a digital mirror, and discovered that holding up that image on their phones would trigger an augmented reality t-shirt to display on top of their image in the mirror. The t-shirt was even pre-countoured to fit on a body, allowing you to virtually try it on.

Then to try on the next t-shirt, just give your phone a flick, and the next shirt would appear, allowing you to browse the entire collection.

In terms of results, it’s reported that 75% of the people that used the digital mirror took photos of themselves wearing one of the t-shirts, and 74 people ended up spending over 500 dollars on their shopping visit.

The idea is an evolution of a virtual-shoe fitting mirror released back in 2007 at the Adidas Paris flagship store, which allowed shoppers to virtually try on different footwear.

Trying On Clothes In A Virtual Mirror | Impact Lab.jpg

The t-shirt execution was much harder to pull off given the need to realistically show the clothes draping on a figure.

This particular mechanism may still be a bit clunky, but the idea of augmented reality shopping could definitely have some merit. A store can only stock so much of a range, and people only have patience to try on so many shirts. If you could scan the entire range and see how it looks on you in minutes rather than hours, that could actually be a useful experience.

Back in 2008 researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications presented a “virtual mirror” that would allow consumers to do just that via a touchscreen interface on the mirror, which may be more practical than the phone. However you can see that the issue of drapery was still obviously not being addressed at this point, which is where Adidas was looking to innovate a bit further.

Trying On Clothes In A Virtual Mirror | Impact Lab-1.jpg

virtual-mirror-678.jpg (450×1014).jpg

6. Facilitating social shopping - getting a second opinion in real-time

Once you’ve got your items picked out, share them virtually with your friends or significant others to get their second opinions.

Diesel Cam

Diesel stores in Spain now come equipped with Diesel Cam, which enables shoppers to photograph themselves with clothes they are trying on and immediately post the photo via Facebook Connect to get feedback from friends, or simply show off.

Manor Tweet Mirror

Nedap Retail has developed “Tweet Mirror”, another social media enabled digital mirror recently installed at Swiss retailer Manor.

The mirror allows you to capture pics of various outfits, compare and share with friends via Twitter, e-mail or mobile for a second opinion.

7. Before you leave — digitally enabled value adds

Estee Lauder Social Media Makeover

This is a much more manual approach than the Diesel Cam, but the output is still very much about digital sharing

Looking to connect with a younger audience than their core 35-55 year old demographic, cosmetics brand Estee Lauder looked at the incredible time and effort their target was putting into social networking spaces and asked the question “where can our brand provide value in this space?”

The answer was the Social Media Makeover promotion — in partnership with Bloomingdales, Estee Lauder would offer free makeovers and professionally produced photos. At the end of the hour long session you’d get a hard copy of your photo and the photo emailed to you, ready for instant profile uploads.

Marketing_ Estee Lauder Promotion Connects With Social Media - Advertising Age - News.jpg

Sony Ericsson Photo Envy

Sony Ericsson and mobile network 3 partnered together for a retail experience called Photo Envy Studio at 3’s store in London’s Oxford Circus. Visitors were directed into the store by street teams, where they were invited to “make their friends jealous by having the perfect pictures taken”, superimposing them in photos of sky diving, bungee jumping or snowboarding.

This one feels a bit inauthentic for an audience who actually does do most of these things themselves, especially with the connection with Sony Ericsson’s ill-conceived and short-lived mascot “Eric”, but the idea of creating currency in-store specifically designed for social sharing is an interesting one.


The integration of digital technologies into the retail space is still nascent, but it’s clear there is potential for enhancing the customer experience throughout all aspects of their store visit.

Here’s a quick recap of some of the common threads in the above for how digital is being used in the retail environment:

  • Attracting attention, engaging customers and actively driving them into the store
  • Providing intelligent, real-time interactive displays
  • Delivering context sensitive promotions and real-time sales and offers
  • Enhancing the shopping experience, including easier browsing/fitting, enhancing peer and shop assistant review, easy access to product reviews and details
  • Capturing customer demographic and behaviour data
  • Providing in-store experiences
  • Creating a seamless connection between online and retail profiles, enabling social shopping
  • Proliferating interactive touchscreens through the technology getting cheaper and more reliable

Hope this post has been useful, and if you’ve seen other compelling digital retail experiences or can imagine other future applications please leave your thoughts in the comments.

And one last suggestion, definitely check out Helge Tenno’s presentation on New Business Opportunities in Retail:

Helge covers a much broader swathe of ground in his presentation, ranging from product to in-store and business opportunities, and it’s chock full of great examples and thinking.

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