IPG Pushes Tech-Based Tools, Toys, Tricks to Boost Shopper Experience

From Interactive Mirrors to Mobile Couponing, Retailer Products Designed With Consumers' Satisfaction in Mind

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A number of emerging platforms aim to enhance the in-store experience.
A number of emerging platforms aim to enhance the in-store experience.

LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Hate to shop?

A mirror that virtually dresses you in the right color and style might help, or a dressing room that will post a picture of you in the outfit you are thinking of wearing so that your friends can weigh in before you buy. These are but a few of the "Minority Report"-esque tools, toys and tricks that Interpublic Group of Cos.' Emerging Media Lab in Los Angeles is showcasing for clients at agencies such as McCann Erickson, DraftFCB and Lowe Worldwide. The goal is to give clients a hands-on look at technology and changes to media consumption, oftentimes with a chance at being the launch sponsor or distribution partner of the emerging platforms.

It's also a chance for retailers to address consumers' increasingly indifferent attitude toward the brick-and-mortar experience. John Ross, CEO of Interpublic's Shopper Sciences and former chief marketing officer at Home Depot, cited an Interpublic poll of more than 10,000 North American shoppers who reported an 11% decrease in satisfaction with customer service. Of those respondents, about 3% to 4% use their mobile phones to enhance their shopping experience in some capacity.

"The in-store experience hasn't changed much in about 50 years," said Scott Susskind, the Lab's chief technology officer. "Retailers are realizing there's a behavior of consumers looking up products on their mobile phones. Some are looking at it as a competitive behavior and others are wondering, How can I leverage that?"

Indeed, many of the technologies displayed at the Interpublic Emerging Media Lab are like retail-based versions of an iPhone app. There's an interactive storefront panel, developed by the Lab with digital agency United Future, that uses cameras to capture information about passers-by and potential shoppers, identifying gender and even skintone to virtually dress the shopper in clothing that would best complement their look. Another product is an interactive mirror that allows consumers to virtually "try on" accessories like glasses and, eventually, other form-fitting clothing. The product is being tested by Sears Optical locations in France.

"We wanted to do augmented reality, but we're just not ready for that yet. The garments don't look right, and the digital adjustment is still a few years out. We think Xbox's Kinect technology will help with that, though," Mr. Susskind said.

Other products are focused on improving the customer service experience. A company called MTI developed a "Lift" technology for electronic pedestals, used by retailers like Target in the U.S., Best in Canada and Sony Centre in the U.K., to improve the shopping experience for hand-held cameras and other items. As consumers narrow down their choices, the electronic pedestals will light up to highlight all available cameras that have the desired specifications, eventually sending any resulting sales data back to the retailer.

Electronic shelf tags from ZBD, developed with E-Ink, are Wi-Fi-enhanced tags that shoppers can scan to learn more about a product via peer reviews and receive updated pricing on high-ticket items. Whole Foods is testing a non-ZBD version of the shelf tags, which have been touted by manufacturers by IBM for their sustainability. Another product, bCode, brings mobile couponing to the retail experience, enabling consumers with any phone to redeem retail-based coupons at the point of sale. Over 750 Carl's Jr., Ikea, Harrah's and AMC movie theater locations are deploying the codes.

And look out for customer-loyalty cards to play an increased role in the shopping experience. Not only can shopper-card data be matched up to products like ZBD's scannable tags, it's also being tested in 250 Stop N Shop and Giant Food stores through a handheld shopper-scanning device from Modiv Media that offers shopper-specific in-store savings and special product offerings while they're shopping -- as opposed to the coupons and rebates given to shoppers after they've checked out. It could also be a guerrilla-marketing tool, Mr. Susskind noted. "If I'm Coca-Cola, every time someone scans a non Coca-Cola product I want to give them an ad to convert them to my products," he said.

Shopper Science's Mr. Ross also has his sights set on making shopping more user-friendly for teenage girls, one of the most skittish demographics in the retail sphere. In early 2011, the Lab will start testing a version of its interactive dressing-room mirror that will enable girls to try on different outfits and share them with their friends via Facebook and other social platforms.

"The dressing room is often one of the biggest hurdles. Shoppers don't like taking off their clothes; it's dirty and dark; it doesn't fit, so I have to go in and out of the experience. But technology can help solve that," Mr. Ross said. "If I can bring my friends into this process, that's a way to radically lower my risk of choice and significantly improve my confidence," Mr. Ross said.

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