Retail giants testing out interactive tools

30 August 2010

NEW YORK: Major retailers including Wal-Mart, Carrefour and JCPenney are experimenting with new interactive tools in a bid to engage consumers and increase sales.

Wal-Mart and Carrefour, the world's two largest grocery chains, have begun trialling a "virtual mirror" from EZface which allows customers to "test" goods prior to buying them.

This device enables shoppers to see what lipstick, hair colorants and similar lines would look like by taking their photo, and then displaying an updated image on the "mirror" when they scan a relevant brand's barcode.

Users can then print out the results, which contain a reminder of the products entered thus far, as well as emailing them to a friend or posting them on Facebook.

"Every lady has a drawer full of the wrong makeup products," Ruth Gal, the co-founder of EZface, said.

After hosting EZface, developed in partnership with IBM, in two venues in 2009, Wal-Mart is now extending this pool to 40 counters in ten stores.

A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, which does not currently provide physical samples, argued sales had been "good" where these units were in place, but it "is too early to tell if activity can be tied directly to EZface."

Carrefour also included an EZface centre at one of its five newly-redesigned hypermarkets operating under the Planet banner.

L'Oréal, the cosmetics giant, added an EZface application to the web portals for L'Oréal Paris and Maybelline, so visitors could gain familiarity with this system.

"Hair colour searches on Google are massive," said Hal Kimber, L'Oréal's head of customer relationship management and internet.

The company installed the actual gadget at an event in London, and believes the real benefits will come from driving up demand in bricks-and-mortar sites.

"That's where you have the strongest impulse to purchase - where you have to give the final impetus," said Kimber.

Elsewhere, JCPenney has introduced a "FindMore" kiosk in stores, boasting a 52-inch touchscreen letting shoppers browse its inventory, scan items to read background details and view recommendations.

"We have to match customer tastes with technology," said Tom Nealon, its chief information officer, when the appliances were rolled out.

"Some people are very digital, and you have to interact with them. Others are more comfortable with store associates."

Media Lab, owned by Interpublic Group, regularly surveys 10,000 adults in North America, and has found that satisfaction ratings for retailers are typically declining by around 15% annually.

One contributor to this trend is unfavourable comparisons measured against the huge amount of data available online, alongside the surge of interest in health and wellness, and the origins of products.

"The role the store is playing is changing," said John Ross, president of IPG's Shopper Sciences arm. "Shoppers are walking up with a different set of expectations."

In an effort to make the consumption experience more personalised, Dunkin' Donuts is assessing mobile services which empower branches to send targeted offers to patrons.

Inditex, the fashion group, is somewhat behind the curve, having only recently announced Zara would start selling goods via the web in France Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the UK.

Analysts at Sanford C Bernstein predict Zara could generate $2.5bn (€2.0bn; £1.6bn) in revenue from this aspect of its operations in three years time, and may even struggle to keep up with demand.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff