Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Curious Shopper checks out Uniqlo

Though I first noticed articles about it back in November of last year, I still haven't found my way into the new Uniqlo store in NYC (granted I'm not exactly in the target demographic). But over at the Curious Shopper, Sara (who is), gives it a great going-over. She suggests that the retailer's difficulties moving out of its home market in Japan have been at least in part based on cultural differences:

Uniqlo has been challenged to translate its retail offering into other cultures. A first attempt at the UK market failed when big, splashy store openings were met with confusion. Now, Uniqlo is focused on bridging the culture gap, by understanding the mind of the fickle US consumer, while also maintaining a subtly Japanese aesthetic. They've set some lofty goals with that one.

When I visited the store, I had a slightly different observation. For me it was less of an American-Japanese gap they needed to bridge, and more of an Old Japan-New Japan gap that needed balancing. I saw spare Japanese discipline coupled with hip Japanese pop culture. The interplay between modern and traditional was fascinating, if not entirely cohesive. Most interestingly, the traditional was actually more in tune with the trends of American retail.
Sara also makes an excellent point about the use of repeating items/images as part of a merchandising strategy. Repetition is one of those basic Psych 101 principles that ties in to everything from short-term memory to pattern recognition, but we still see limited use of it in-store. While I could see a problem at a supermarket or big-box retailer, where trying to create repeating instances of 50,000 different brands might become a bit maddening, it seems like a natural fit for private label retail.

Tags: Uniqlo, repetition, merchandising, in-store marketing

Thursday, March 22, 2007

22 year-old writes how-to manual for tray liner advertising

Man, I knew these echo-boomers liked to take matters into their own hands, but this is still pretty impressive: 22 year-old Phillip Tapia is trying to re-invent food service tray liner advertising, which, while certainly not one of the sexier sides of the ad industry, is a practical and established marketing medium. According to this press release, "Phillip and his father (Mike Tapia) currently distribute to 26 Wendy’s restaurants in southern Colorado along with dozens of Little Caesars Pizza locations in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and Denver Colorado. Between Wendy’s and Little Caesars pizza, the Tapia family will print and produce more than 400,000 tray liners and pizza box toppers every month. Tray Display only uses soy-based inks and prints on 100% recycled paper to ensure our tray liners and box toppers are environmentally friendly." The business model features tie-ins with local radio stations and takes advantage of local advertisers and sponsors.

While still small at only 400k impressions per month, the thing that most impressed me (and most differentiates this startup company with so many others) is their willingness to share what they've learned: Tapia launched, which includes a How-To manual for others interested in the tray advertising business. Instead of keeping his findings a secret, I suppose he hopes to make a name for himself in the industry by sharing what he has learned works and doesn't work in the market.

Monday, March 19, 2007

IconNicholson's interactive mirrors bring social media to shopping

While the image above may look like something out of the Haunted Mansion at DisneyWorld, it is in fact a prototype interactive mirror developed by IconNicholson and demonstrated at an NYC Bloomingdales for a few days last week. The mirror allows a shopper to virtually try on different outfits by projecting an image of the selected item(s) "on top of" the shopper's own image. While the obvious benefit might be a new wave of efficiency that allows shoppers to try out a larger number of items without having to drag them all into a dressing room, the mirror's developers had a more social goal in mind: group shopping. As this article from the New York Times notes,

As [self-described shopaholic Tracy] Noah stood in front of the mirror, a camera relayed live video images of her to an Internet site where online participants could view her outfit. When Web viewers responded by sending her comments, their instant messages popped up on the left side of the mirror for Ms. Noah to read. They also selected items for her to try on, causing virtual images of the clothing to appear before her in the middle of the mirror, like life-size holograms.
The article notes that shopping for non-essentials (ok, what I would call non-essentials) can be a largely social experience for many, and the prospect of trading a night out shopping with the girls isn't likely to be replaced by a night in front of the computer watching one of your friends go shopping any time soon.

Augmented reality mirrors have been a hot topic lately. Other blog posts about them include:
AddMirror brings retail media to the narcissist
Adidas virtual shoe-fitting mirror

Tags: IconNicholson, Bloomingdales, digital signage, interactive mirror

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Immersive Display Solutions and ZmmConnect present the Ad.mersion system

Maybe I'm starting to get old, but the more I see gimmicky advertising solutions like interactive floors, 3D holographic displays and immersive systems, the more quickly I immediately think "this will never catch on at-retail." Aside from some extremely cool-looking demonstrations, I just haven't seen many practical applications that use these kinds of things to do something unique, innovative, and genuinely useful.

Of course, every once in a while somebody like Reactrix - makers of some of the aforementioned interactive floors - will go and do something amazing like raise $45 million to place their wares into malls in hopes to sell advertising and sponsorship deals, but to me even that kind of seems like having more dollars than sense. Perhaps it's because I'm not the right target audience, and maybe getting kids to jump up and down and run after a spinning Nike logo on the floor really will help to build a connection between brand and budding consumer. But I'm going to need to see some data before buying into that.

Now on the other hand, I do think that these kinds of immersive technology may have a place in experiential shopping venues - those who put the brand and the experience front and center instead of focusing exclusively on selling products (and after doing a bit of research, it seems that David Polinchock from the Brand Experience Lab would agree).

Where's this going? Well, I started giving this area some thought after reading that a company called Immersive Display Solutions announced that a great use of their immersive graphical "bubbles" (for lack of a better word) is retail advertising. I'll be the first to say that IDS's immersive screens are extremely cool. They create a feeling of depth and motion that just can't be matched by a much smaller flat screen. However, it seems like this is a solution in search of a problem, and I'd be surprised if the Ad.mersion system, as it's called, can gain traction in the increasingly competitive out-of-home advertising market. Do the displays have the ability to attract a crowd? Yup. Will it be enough to offset the expense of the system and its ability to only address a relatively small number of people at once? Right now, I don't think so.

Granted, advertisers have a long history of latching on to the latest novelty in hopes that it will catch enough attention with its uniqueness to make it worthwhile. But like my feelings towards Reactrix, it's going to be a challenge to show that these systems are practical for more than brand promotion and producing a more interesting in-store experience.

Tags: Ad.mersion, marketing at retail, out-of-home advertising