Innovation comes to retail

18 January 2011

NEW YORK: Kraft, Adidas and Disney are among the companies experimenting with innovative retail tools and formats to engage consumers in new ways.

Sportswear giant Adidas and Intel have developed the adiVERSE Virtual Footwear Wall, a huge touchscreen placed in stores, potentially displaying 8,000 shoes from across its portfolio.

The system automatically assesses the sex of users, alongside offering the ability to rotate products, view detailed specifications, watch video content and read relevant Twitter buzz.

Further functionality allows shoppers to file orders, before completing payments on a tablet.

"The idea of the wall is to extend to the physical product range that we have in the store through a virtual product range," Chris Aubrey, Adidas' vp, global retail marketing, told Fast Company.

"We've levelled the playing field for small retailers. They can now act like a big flagship store in a town like New York."

Food group Kraft has created the "Meal Planning Solution" device, deploying gender- and age-recognition software to recommend appropriate meal options.

Customers inserting loyalty cards also receive tips based on previous purchases, while this service can be linked to the firm's iFood Assistant mobile app, and distributes physical samples.

"The average consumer has a catalogue of about ten recipes that he or she is familiar with to make for their families," said Don King, Kraft's vp, retail experience.

"Additionally, the average consumer enters the store, and 70% of the time is not exactly sure what they're going to make for dinner that very evening … We want to give people suggestions that are nutritious and delicious."

Elsewhere, MIT Media Lab, supported by electronics chain Best Buy and Intel, is developing the LuminAR, a "robotic, digital information device" similar in shape to a desk lamp.

It holds a bulb containing Intel's Atom Processor, projecting digital material on to any surface, including interactive features and a facility connecting to laptops, cellphones and other gadgets.

However, Pattie Maes director of MIT Media Lab's Fluid Interfaces Group, predicted LuminAR was unlikely to go live in the near future.

"There are no major tech hurdles that need to be resolved, but it usually takes two-to-three years from the moment a company takes on a piece of research like this until you see it in the market."

"It could be as much as five years out."

Disney has modernised 50 of its branches, adding mobile payment services empowering customers to undertake transactions without stopping at counters, targeted digital content and a "magical mirror" children can talk to.

A back-office system provided by Oracle will also deliver a stronger understanding of buying patterns in each outlet, and propose alterations covering merchandising, pricing and promotions.

"Over 90% of our store guests in North America and Europe said the new store design has brought them closer to the Disney brand," Stephen Finney, svp, global retail operations, at Disney Stores.

"If specialty retailers don't innovate, we'll lose out."

A survey of some 30,000 shoppers by IBM found such a model may prove profitable, as 49% of participants now employ at least two channels, like websites, mobile phones and in-store kiosks, to make purchases.

This marked a 36% uptick on two years ago, while 40% of the panel expressed an interest in checking product prices by scanning barcodes via a cellphone, and 50% would happily use handsets to "avoid the checkout lane."

Data sourced from Intel, Fast Company, Internet Retailer; additional content by Warc staff