The customer is always right. When that phrase was first uttered, it would have been unfathomable to perceive how contemporary consumers would define what was “right” on such an individual basis — or what unique strategies retailers would employ to keep up.
Each year around this time, STORES magazine highlights the industry’s top “ideas worth stealing.” The crop for 2015 largely focuses on innovative ways to meet highly personalized consumer demands. From merging the store and e-commerces experiences to delivering on-the-spot goods and services, these retailers are helping redefine the art of buying and selling.
Great thought starters for 2015: so, go ahead, steal them. - DJK
Discover Social Media’s Payout
Say all you want that social media isn’t “tangible.” A Twitter-activated vending machine has just proven you wrong. The concept, which was unveiled at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, made its New York City debut in November at an Eddie Bauer seasonal pop-up store. During the first two weeks of the store’s opening, consumers could tweet using @eddiebauer and #liveyouradventure while in the store and receive products, gift cards and discounts from the outdoor outfitter.
Eddie Bauer hasn’t had a store in the area for nearly a decade, but the pop-up will reopen as a permanent flagship location; plans call for an additional 200 North American stores over the next few years. CEO Mike Egeck told Fortune in November that the company has at least 20,000 customers in Manhattan based on its online sales, and 250,000 in New York. That’s a lot of merchandise to fit in a vending machine — but a ton of opportunities for social media mentions. — Fiona Soltes
Solve Customers’ Biggest Annoyances
There’s nothing that quite brings reality crashing back in after vacation than the thought of an empty refrigerator waiting at home. Perhaps that thought starts on the return flight as you’re forced to near-starvation by the meager airline offerings.
That’s why Australian grocer Woolworths’ latest click-and-collect site — at Melbourne Airport — is so brilliant. Customers can order their groceries online or via the Woolworths’ app, select a pickup time within the next seven days and go on with their holiday. At the end of the trip, the groceries are waiting just outside the terminal building. If plans change, it’s easy enough to switch to having the groceries delivered.
For those who prefer the old-fashioned way of grocery shopping, the app offers a “find me” function, which tells shoppers where products are located in the store. It also details product specials and will sync shopping lists on the app and online accounts. For those who buy gasoline from Woolworths, the app keeps track of fuel vouchers and will detail which nearby Woolworths location offers the lowest price.
Grocery shopping is a required chore for most any household: Woolworths is aiming to take some of the pain out of it. — Sandy Smith
Analyze Products in Innovative Ways
So you thought testing athletic apparel for proper performance was no sweat? Not a chance. At the Nike Sports Research Lab in Beaverton, Ore., one sweaty little fellow named “Hal” is doing a fair amount of the legwork. The copper mannequin — which has 139 ports that simulate sweating — has been spending endless hours of late on a treadmill, where he is used to check the effectiveness of moisture-wicking materials. He’ll also play a part in the development of new materials aimed at preventing rubbing and chafing.
Hal is only one of the many ways Nike incorporates biomechanics, physiology, perception and athletic performance into design. There are, for example, environmental chambers where products can be tested in extreme weather conditions. Those tests might involve actual human athletes or Hal, but the goal is the same: to “create footwear and apparel solutions that lower an athlete’s body temperature and reduce his or her energy expenditure, thereby allowing him or her to train longer and harder.” Other tests within the 16,000-square-foot facility include the study of biomechanics through a sports science visualization tool that creates a three-dimensional picture of an athlete in motion. Here, data captured in creative ways drives further innovation. — F.S.
Be a Fashion Hero
Sometimes, out of disaster comes solution. While the back story is not known, it is highly likely that some sort of calamity brought on Forever 21’s latest promotion: To herald the opening of a store in Costa Rica, the retailer offered a private cell phone number to the first 100 fans who visited the new location.
Like some sort of clandestine operation, the cell phone number linked to a van. When a fashion crisis happened — perhaps a food stain or maybe the horrors of someone else wearing the same dress — users could call the number to request a “Closet S.O.S.” No matter where the dialer was located, the mobile wardrobe service (housing the latest Forever 21 fashions) was dispatched to the location. Presto, chango and fashion disaster becomes a fashion plate.
Others have tried similar tactics. But as same-day delivery competition heats up, this fully stocked fashion van may kick it up a notch. Why choose just one or two items for immediate delivery when you can try on virtually the whole store? — S.S.
Offer Video Purchasing
No need to stop and browse; keep moving instead. In early 2014, Australia-based luxury jewelry retailer Michael Hill launched a premium shoppable video initiative that allowed consumers to purchase items directly from a Valentine’s Day video, at the moment the items appeared onscreen. The video presented a “behind-the-scenes” storyline of a couple taking part in a videography shoot. Items seen in the video appeared on the right hand side of the screen, ready and waiting to be placed in a viewer’s cart for purchase.
Better yet, thanks to the Video Cloud platform from Brightcove, the same high-quality video experience was available on PC, tablet and smartphone. Talk about the instant gratification of love at first sight.
Aside from offering a fun new way to shop, James Johnson, Michael Hill’s group digital manager, says the effort has allowed the company to “tie video to key online retail metrics and understand the impact of video on conversion rates and other key indicators.” The jeweler has stores in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Brightcove has customers in some 70 countries; e-commerce consultancy Amblique also was involved. — F.S.
Wake Customers with a Daily Surprise
McDonald’s restaurants in Singapore are trying to make the entire country into a nation of morning people. Using the Surprise Alarm app, smartphone users can select what time they want McDonald’s to wake them up. After waking the phone’s owner, the app offers some sort of reward: a free music download, a comic video, a cash prize or McDonald’s discounts.
This is no case of which comes first, the McNugget or the Egg McMuffin; the alarm works day and night. Discount coupons can be stored in the app’s version of a mobile wallet until redeemed. The app also pays attention to what individual users like and redeem. Over time, it learns to target those preferences with more personalized surprises.
While it’s hard to say if it’s made morning people out of the locals, it is easy to label it a success. The app quickly topped Google Play and the Apple Store with nearly 500,000 downloads.
Now if only they could find a way to have the alarm accompanied by an actual cup of fresh-brewed coffee. — S.S.
Capture Shoppers While They’re Walking By
Ever walked by a store window and heard something on display calling your name? Consider this the next-best thing. London-based department store Harrodsused 15 interactive window displays last fall to promote the new Polo Ralph Lauren line for women.
Using mobile proximity technology powered by global mobile marketing, loyalty and NFC payments company Proxama, each window featured large vinyl lenticulars and stickers for consumers to scan or tap with their smartphones. Doing so activated an interactive map of the “Fashion Lab” area where the collection was located, in addition to a link to the Harrods mobile site for instant purchase — even while the store was closed.
Pascal Caillon, general manager of North America for Proxama, noted that 15 percent of consumers went on to shop the collection online and that the busiest time of engagement was 3-4 p.m.
“The combination of a luxury fashion brand and a globally recognized department store demonstrates the versatility of this type of technology,” Proxama’s Miles Quitmann said in a statement. “By offering consumers the opportunity to find the Polo range in-store and online, Harrods is combining its physical and digital assets, reaching consumers through the channel of their choice.” — F.S.
Build the Right Alliances
Recipe search engine Foodily can whet the appetite and feed it in a healthy way, thanks to a collaboration between AmazonFresh — Amazon’s grocery delivery service — and Weight Watchers.
AmazonFresh shoppers can select from 20 different healthy recipes. With one click, all the required ingredients are in the AmazonFresh cart. Weight Watchers vets the recipes and Foodily powers the site.
Foodily and Amazon have both been leaders in technology; though Weight Watchers has been somewhat slow to adapt, it’s offering new digital products, including working with Jawbone and FitBit to convert activities into points. (Weight Watchers users are given a set number of “points” to eat per day based on weight loss goals. Activity boosts the number of points earned.)
The Foodily/AmazonFresh/Weight Watchers program is available only in markets served by AmazonFresh delivery — currently Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and the New York metro area — though the recipes can be seen and used by anyone.
The relationship is still working out some of the kinks — such as required ingredients that may not be available through AmazonFresh and recipes that don’t seem to fit the Weight Watchers brand. (Baked potato latkes with 111 percent of the daily recommendation for fat intake, anyone?) But it is further proof that the new model for doing business lies in making alliances. — S.S.
Get More Personal
The more often consumers use their mobile devices to make purchases, the more data is available. And the more available data, the more effective apps like Cobraincan be. The app, billed as “the first cross-merchant personalization ecosystem in partnership with hundreds of large retail merchants,” predicts what consumers will want to buy. Because it organizes shoppers into groups with similar tastes, the shopping habits of others also become part of the picture.
Started by CareerBuilder founder Robert McGovern, Cobrain pulls data from 300 different retail partners, representing some 5,000 brands. From that broad base, items are recommended without regard to store or brand. Consumers can go from the app to the retailer’s site to make the purchase, increasing sales — and perhaps even delivering brand-new customers to a store. The app, available for both iPhone and Android, continues to cement the strength of mobile as a part of any brand’s strategy.
McGovern had the idea for the app while recovering from a car-accident-related brain injury. It allows consumers to “share brain power with others” in making choices through collaborative intelligence. Retail has been first to use the concept, but restaurants and other categories likely won’t be far behind. — F.S.
Ramp Up Social Enterprise
While the Weight Watchers/Foodily/AmazonFresh program tackles one societal problem, Villa is after another: academic achievement in math, language arts and science. The fashion retailer has teamed with Nike’s Jordan Brand to offer incentives to students.
Participating students from three selected Philadelphia high schools received a $25 Jordan Brand coupon for each A received in math, language arts and science. The school with the most As received $25,000.
The company said it plans to bring the program to other communities around the country.
This is far from just one feel-good program that dramatically impacts the lives of a few. Villa’s Join the Movement initiative intends to revitalize urban communities through educational support, environmental improvement and economic empowerment for teens. So far the company has sponsored turkey giveaways at Thanksgiving, partnered with customers to provide shoes for disadvantaged children, held food drives and days of service and provided employment opportunities and training programs.
As social enterprise enters its next phase, Villa may serve as a case study for how retailers can do more than offer a few promotions at certain times of the year. — S.S.
Give Shoppers a New Reason to ‘Pick Something Up’
Kate Spade recently partnered with Perch to turn store tables into interactive, hands-on displays at its Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan. Information, animation and brand-specific media were available to those who engaged with bags, shoes, sunglasses and other goodies — somewhat akin to hovering over an item online and seeing additional features pop up.
The idea, according to Perch, is to “combine the benefits of online shopping with the advantages of traditional retail to create an entirely unique and engaging experience for the customer.” The best part may be that the information is available at the point the consumer will be most open to receiving it. The displays, then, are not only a way to get people in the door; they may be a fresh way to close the sale.
There’s an analytics component for the retailer, as well. Perch keeps track of all of those product touches, and the Perch Cloud Server allows the initiative to scale to multiple stores. Kate Spade used Perch for a year-long effort to bring its travel-related social media campaign into its bricks-and-mortar stores. Other Perch partners include Harney & Sons, Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Nexxus and Delta Air Lines. — F.S.
Branch Out into New Concepts
Just when you think you have the Starbucks vibe pegged, the company switches things up — beer and liquor offerings, mobile coffee trucks on college campuses. But perhaps the biggest change is the new concept store, opening its first location in the company’s hometown of Seattle.
Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Roomconsolidates the company’s small batch roasting, expanding the Starbucks Reserve line while providing coffee education to consumers. The company says it may open up to 100 of these concept stores to highlight this rare coffee.
Starbucks has created cafes that cash in on the Reserve line before (though the roastery and educational components are new). There are currently Reserve locations in Japan, China and Latin America.
While the company is expanding, it also is planning to test smaller-footprint express stores. The smaller stores will integrate Starbucks’ digital payment platform and incorporate mobile ordering.
Once again, Starbucks recognizes that consumers want more than just a cup of coffee. They want cache and convenience — and are willing to pay for both. — S.S.
Go Big to Get Attention
Start with a captive audience. Something, perhaps, like commuters waiting for trains in a major city’s railway station. Add in game play, prizes from a popular retailer and technology that enables multiple players to participate via their smartphones in real time. And then, well, super-size it. The result? A larger-than-life interactive, creative ad that gives people something to talk about.
The “Get Set for Bubbles” game, part of the “Get Set Go Argos” campaign for the British retailer, appeared in London’s Waterloo and Euston train stations in October. But it wasn’t just in the stations; it started on the Motion@Waterloo full-motion digital screen, which boasts nearly 1,300 square feet of creative space, reaching across the gate line of six platforms. It’s touted as the largest single indoor screen in the United Kingdom, and the effort is said to be the first time it has been used for such a purpose.
The game was created by CHI&Partners and Candyspace and highlights the use of mobile, which now accounts for 22 percent of Argos sales. Commuters used their smartphones to play via a dedicated mobile site. “Mobile channels present a huge opportunity,” said Carl Nield, Argos’ head of brand marketing. Huge, indeed. — F.S.
Tie in Promotions with People
Apparently, the hoodie look is over for young entrepreneurs who need to appear that their fashion sense has evolved beyond the IPO stage. That’s the idea behind the Back to Business sweepstakes from Express and GQ. The contest took four entrepreneurs with great business plans and gave them a fashion makeover. The magazine-style pictorials also included links to buy every item featured in the spread.
One winner received an investment in his business. Magazine readers voted on the candidates; to sweeten the deal, voters could win a trip to New York and a $1,000 Express shopping spree.
The four entrepreneurs represented a range of potential businesses: one developed an algorithm for ranking tech companies; another offered coaching for men; yet another created a nutrition drink. The winner, Nick Taranto, is co-founder of Plated, which delivers all the ingredients and instructions for a gourmet meal (and was included in the September issue of STORES as one of our digital disruptors). — S.S.
Create Online Experiences in Real Life
When British retailer Marks & Spencer returned to the Internet-savvy Netherlands in 2013 after a decade-long absence, it did so by blurring the lines between e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar in a unique way. In addition to introducing a new Dutch website with local delivery and payment options and opening M&S Simply Food stores at BP gas stations in a half-dozen locations in Randstad, Marks & Spencer set its sights on creating a world-class multichannel store in the heart of Amsterdam’s shopping district.
Located on the Kalverstraat, the idea of the “e-Boutique” was to showcase the future of retail with “cutting-edge world-first technology to improve and enhance the customer experience.” Part of that effort was a virtual clothing rack that allows consumers to “see” clothing samples from a variety of angles, as well as on models. The rack is made of large stacked screens and several physical rails, each one able to hold 50 clothing samples. Style advisers with iPads stay close by to offer guidance, and consumers can swipe the screens to view the regularly updated collection. Any purchases can be shipped to the store for pick-up or to the consumer’s home.
The 5,300-square-foot e-boutique also features some 1,400 innovative food offerings, including the most popular M&S prepared meals. — F.S.
Capitalize on Traffic Generators
If you want to know someone’s opinion these days, simply post something on the Internet. That’s what drove Crate & Barrel’s CB2 concept store to Pinterest to decorate an apartment. It’s a match made in social media heaven, since Pinterest is far and away the biggest traffic generator for CB2.
CB2 rented an apartment and gave each of five Pinterest-popular interior designers a room to decorate. They were provided options from the CB2 store and Pinterest users voted on the design choices in real time via a Pinterest microsite, Apt CB2.
Because each designer had only one day to stage the room, the parameters were tight. Pinterest users were given one hour to select an item, like the sofa. The winning item was immediately delivered to the site (all items were stored nearby). The designers could supplement the CB2 offerings with vintage and one-of-a-kind pieces.
Everything was documented by photo and video crews that kept the microsite active, with appropriate references on how to get the products. After the apartment was complete, several popular bloggers were invited to spend a night there, extending the campaign a bit more.
It marked the first branding campaign in CB2’s 14-year existence and garnered more than 16,000 followers, so surely it won’t be the last. — S.S.
Encourage Your Customers to Share
Those Geller Girls sure can talk. In late 2013, cosmetics retailer Laura Gellerteamed with social commerce systems provider Blucarat to integrate a social community directly into the retailer’s e-commerce site. Blucarat Social allows consumers to provide reviews and share tips, photos and information, in addition to answering each other’s questions.
The Beauty Bar launched with more than 100,000 Geller Girls, and the company found that the initiative increased traffic on the website by 22 percent and boosted conversion rates on some products up to 49 percent.
Blucarat introduced a new version of Blucarat Social in 2014, making it “even easier for users to connect with friends, family or experts to have rich, product-oriented discussions that help the overall shopping community,” according to a Blucarat spokesperson. Part of the new version: improved shopper matching through updated algorithms that bring together like-minded consumers; improved product matching through the Facebook Open Graph protocol, past purchases and other data; compatibility with iOS tablet and Android; and a trending products feature.
As with any social media site, an effort like this works best with some monitoring. Laura Geller Beauty representatives follow suit by popping in with relevant responses. — F.S.
Offer Free Advice
Are you hot or not? This is not the type of question that should be posted on a website. So where to get the answer? Try the window of an AS Colour store.
The New Zealand fashion retailer’s new Colourmatic tool — currently available at one of its locations — rates outfits of passersby on a scale of 1-100. It awards points for originality, identifies weak links in the overall ensemble and provides advice on colors and pieces to push an outfit from a fashion “don’t” to a “do.”
According to a local news report, the Colourmatic bases its critiques on color science theory, as well as which colors are on trend. The solutions to raising those scores are, of course, available just inside the store.
The company reports that sales increased about 16 percent at the Colourmatic test location. With sales figures like that — and the investment of resources it took to develop it — one can bet that the technology behind the Colourmatic will be coming ashore sometime soon. Probably right after it loses the “u” in Colour. — S.S.
Bring the Store to Mobile Devices
It’s the digital age-old question: How can retailers recreate the in-store experience online? Pottery Barn believes the answer lies within a series of interactive videos. A recent installment included in-house interior designers providing holiday decorating tips and answering viewers’ questions about the products involved. Celebrity mixologists also were on hand to offer recipes for seasonal cocktails. A video in May focused on summer drinks; one in October gave tips for hosting a “spooktacular” party. Naturally, each video comes with an in-stream “click to buy” button. To encourage participation, commenters are given the opportunity to win Pottery Barn gift cards.
The videos were created in partnership with Brandlive, a product communication platform that aims to help brands and retailers “dramatically increase customer conversion, activate influencers and lower internal product training costs.” Other companies that have worked with Brandlive include GoPro, MasterCraft, FoodSaver and Gerber. And why not? One look at social media will show that video can cross the boundaries of various interests and audiences.
Tool retailer Rockwell reported that its first real-world application event with Brandlive delivered 1,110 unique viewers, 1,000 questions and comments and 120 unique orders online and by phone. — F.S.
Try Something New
Scan it or say it: No matter how you want to get your shopping items together, the hiku can help. The digital assistant, currently being tested by U.K. grocer Waitrose, can compile a shopping list whether users scan a product’s bar code or simply say the name. The shopping list appears on users’ mobile device; add or remove an item and the list automatically updates.
The device is meant to be hung from the refrigerator door, so when the last drop of milk is drained from the jug, the bar code is scanned and the item appears on the list.
The hiku was developed in Silicon Valley and is part of Waitrose’s “Hot Ideas” program, which encourages the retailer to develop a culture of trying new things. Plans are to test the device with associates before rolling it out to customers, which should happen early this year. — S.S.