Retail Display Technology Horror Show

With a nod to Friday the 13th, let me take a moment to mention something that scares me when it comes to retail design: technology at retail, specifically video monitors.

Now before you roll your eyes and write me off as some sort of pre-historic relic, let me explain. I actually love the idea of interacting with shoppers via the latest technology. What scares me is how retailers, marketers and manufacturers arrive at, and execute, what seemingly is a simple “no-brainer”.

Here’s what happens: everyone gets together and figures out that they have to do something different for a display or their store. They see article after article that the internet is pounding the snot out of brick-and-mortar stores. They see people flocking to the latest social media site du jour. Guests are seemingly surgically attached to their smart phones.

What is a retailer, brand or marketing company to do?

At the tail end of the creative brief they throw in this line:

“include design concepts with a monitor”

Erm, okay.

That’s what scares me.

“Make the display purple like our brand, make it 72″ tall and make sure it has wheels. Oh and add a random monitor in there, ’cause that will solve a lot of problems.”

Um, nope.

This reeks of an un-thought-through (I made that up) tactical approach that is often thrown in by some random person (owner, marketing, salesman, design director, intern…).  Pro tip: throwing monitors at the problem is not part of a fundamental, comprehensive, marketing strategy.

So, before you go off the deep end, and waste a ton of money, here are my unscientific tips for putting monitors (and technology) at retail.

1) Please, Please, Please, Have A Purpose

Monitors cost a lot of money and use a lot of resources. Just because the internet uses video and bejeweled buttons, doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. Ask yourself why do you need a monitor? How does it fit into your marketing strategy and brand? Who will look at it? If it’s interactive, who will interact with it? Is it worth the cost and complexity?

Do not, do not, do not EVER just put a line item on the creative brief that says – “oh, show us some monitor concepts too” with nothing to back up the rationale.

Otherwise, use large format graphics and creative merchandising to get more bang for your buck.

2) It’s Like A Pet, Who’s Going To Take Care Of It?

We all see it. All the time. Brand XYZ comes out with an awesome new display made by world-renowned Design Firm ABC. It’s got lights, monitors, and $200K worth of lasers and holograms selling ice to Eskimos. Every trade publication and industry association fawns all over it. Salesmen crack the champagne and it’s rumored there’s even a Hollywood movie in the works…

Three months later guests are looking at a static image of the brand logo, waiving their arms fruitlessly in front of an 72″ vertical monitor, in an effort to “try on” clothes. Or the brand message changes and no one even bothers to plug-in a new USB drive to download the update. Eventually the monitor ends up in some district manager’s basement in time for the Super Bowl.

Pass the salsa.

Hey guys, what seems like a good idea during the design phase equals a lot of care and feeding down the road.

Nothing says you’re out of touch like technology that no longer works at retail.

3) Are Committed To Doing It Right?

You know, you’ve got this cool video monitor with all this technology, are you going to actually use it? Or are you just throwing it out there because the guys selling bread in the next aisle have a monitor?

Do not, I repeat, do not just put your logo on the screen, with a slide show of random products. Every time you do that, god kills a somebody with a Marketing MBA.

Understand your guests’ wants and needs. Take the time to do your research; find out what their frustrations are, how technology can help, AND attract them. Then spend the money on comprehensive graphic design, programming, and industrial design to make it look like you care about your brand, the retailer and guests.

Please, design the user experience (like real humans are going to use the technology by the way) and trouble shoot it before you go live.

4) Make Sure You’ve Got The Right Product

Some businesses need this technology at retail; video game console companies for example. What kind of monster doesn’t like stopping at Best Buy to race through the Alps on an Xbox?

If you’re selling thumbtacks in a hardware store, I’m not sure you need a monitor. But maybe… Please have a compelling reason to put wires, glass and metal on a shelf front.

Time is a consumer’s most precious commodity. Information their greatest need at retail. Help them make informed decisions, and make them fall in love with your shopping experience. They want to be entertained, but they are savvy enough to know if you’re wasting their time.

Alright, I think you get the idea. Below are some random images I pulled from my personal archive with my thoughts.

Just to be safe though, I think I’ll avoid going to retail this Friday the 13th, if it’s all the same to you.

Do you agree? Disagree? Who does tech at retail right? What are the worst examples you’ve seen? How can we improve the retail experience with technology?

Continue the discussion in the comments below.

-Chris

Chris Weigand Design, LLC is a full service retail design consultancy who is more than happy to design your next display or store, with or without monitors, lasers and holograms. We want to help make the emotional connection between your brand and guests in the physical retail space. And have fun doing it.

Contact us today at (330) 858-8926 or visit www.chrisweiganddesign.com for more information.

 

 

This Week’s Random Retail Sights

While surveying stores for a client we snapped few photos of things that caught our eye the other day. First off the color blue is picking up in Spring where it left off in winter. The Nordstrom windows we saw were a great homage to the color and got us at least dreaming of warmer weather, even if Mother Nature is not cooperating.

Nordstrom jumps into Spring with a celebration of the color blue in their store windows...

Nordstrom jumps into Spring with a celebration of the color blue in their store windows…

 

 

...if only this translated to warmer temperatures outside. We're ready for Spring.

…if only this translated to warmer temperatures outside. We’re ready for Spring.

Passing by J. Jill we were smitten by their exterior store branding; specifically we love the simplicity of their logo. The repetitious shapes and OCD-like attention to detail is fantastic. Graphic design at its best if you ask us.

J. Jill logo is a study in simplicity, repetition and composition.

J. Jill logo is a study in simplicity, repetition and composition.

Lastly we can’t help ourselves but linger in the Apple Store and take in all the clean lined products. Of particular interest to this author was the Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker. It’s an extraordinary example of industrial design that oozes simplicity and quality. Put your hand on it and you can feel the bass. Lift it up and it has a good heft to it. Call us stodgy or boring, but in a world filled with common, jelly bean bluetooth speakers we’ll gladly take this little Bose speaker with us on the go or in the office.

Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth portable speaker is a real subtle gem. We love the clean lines, textures and heft of the unit.

Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth portable speaker is a real subtle gem. We love the clean lines, textures and heft of the unit.

We were also enamored to a certain extent by the Bose SoundTouch Portable speaker as well. Of all things the remote was pretty nifty too.

Bose SoundTouch Portable Wi-Fi system. Simple no-nonsense design.

Bose SoundTouch Portable Wi-Fi system. Simple no-nonsense design.

Bose SoundTouch remote, photo courtesy Bose website www.bose.com

Bose SoundTouch remote, photo courtesy Bose website http://www.bose.com

Enjoy.

 

Chris Weigand Design, LLC is a full service retail design consultancy. Contact us today at (330) 858-8925 to talk about how we can help you with your next retail project.

Microsoft Retail Eye Candy

Apparently I don’t get out much, but when I finally was allowed to leave my studio earlier this week, I found myself at the mall with my family. We needed new dishes, so we stopped by Pottery Barn and found something we liked. It would be about a half hour to pull inventory and pack our two sets of dinnerware, so we had some time to kill. After the kids tossed a few wishful pennies in the fountain (ah, the simple things in life….when’s the last time you did that?) we aimlessly wandered around the corner and found ourselves in front of the LEGO store. The kids were happy. Their father, on the other hand, kind of dreaded the thought of having to buy more LEGO’s, not because of any aversion to small building blocks (I love them, and play with them, to this day) but rather because both young boys just had birthdays and received plenty already. Across the way though, something caught my eye.

You guys go check out the LEGO store, I’ll be over here” I offhandedly directed to my toddler wrangling partner, and I walked across the way.

In front of me stood the simple shiny white facade of the Microsoft store. I knew these stores existed, but never really thought to find one in the Cleveland area. Has the concept been around so long that it finally filtered its way down to our area? Who cares. It’s here now.

Before I even stepped inside I was smitten by the large lifestyle graphic panels that ran around the perimeter of the store. “That’s awesome“, I thought to myself. I liked the seemingly backlit color and images. I like how it seamlessly went from wall to wall in a 4′ tall band.

Then the graphics changed.

Whoa” I mouthed silently to myself.

What I was actually looking at was not back-lit graphics but rather one giant, extremely long, video screen. It took a moment to comprehend. I mean, I’ve seen all kinds of similar, and even more extraordinary things like this before, but not on a somewhat “mass” retail scale. And a part of me probably recalls reading or seeing this sort of thing in trade magazine or something. Hell, we used to draw this kind of idea all the time but it never made it past a shiny computer rendering.  Back in the day I thought it’d be cool to use video screens instead of printed signs – never have to ship another piece of seasonal signage again, just upload it. But here, live, in front of me was something I guess I never would have expected…or at least not expected to see during a trip to go pick up plates and coffee mugs (albeit a different store obviously).

It was pure visual retail porn.

Without hesitation I stepped inside. I basked in the glow of my newly discovered wall of visual ecstasy. Watching fields of grass in one section, the time and date in another….over there a competitive comparison…all on one screen…like two hundred feet long…that turned two corners.  I wanted to shake someone’s hand. Somewhere out there was a very proud design team who made a very compelling case to someone with there wear withal to make this happen.  Very cool.

The video wall, made up of dozens of smaller monitors, wraps the store.

The video wall, made up of dozens of smaller monitors, wraps the store.

I was promptly greeted by an Microsoft sales associate. We chatted a bit. I owned up to the fact that I was just looking around. I did not use the words “porn” or “ecstasy” in case you were wondering. There I was snapping photos with my phone (I won’t mention the brand…let’s just say it was ironic), like a kid in a candy store….or LEGO store. I walked around, not really interested in the product. I only had a few minutes, so it’s not like I could do a complete deep dive on this retail visit. I was just winging it.

Towards the back I was eyeing the Xbox gaming area when another associate and I started talking. She demonstrated how guests can try out the latest games using controllers tethered to small posts. Gaming screens appeared within the larger screen display that wraps the store. The area is surrounded by simple full faced software displays and large format graphics informing guests of new releases. Also, at the front of the store is a floor to ceiling gaming demo space, that I’m sure draws in mall visitors. The day I was there they had a, yet to be released, Xbox One showing off its impressive graphics capabilities. Very cool indeed.

The gaming area in the back corner of the store doesn't require separate monitors, it utilizes a portion of the video wall. Note the simple merchandising.

The gaming area in the back corner of the store doesn’t require separate monitors, it utilizes a portion of the video wall. Note the simple merchandising.

The Microsoft store facade. At the far end is a game demo area.

The Microsoft store facade. At the far end is a game demo area.

The topic then switched over to computers after I asked what the space behind the registers was for. They have a small classroom to teach guests how to use their new computers. The space features contemporary tables, benches and a very large monitor. On the main sales floor there are various areas to learn about the different computers and other products the store has to offer. All are done in relative simplicity and feature clean contemporary lines. Guests are welcome to sit while shopping as stools are plentiful; something that is in contrast to competitive stores I believe. Personally I found myself smitten again as my Microsoft expert companion explained the pros of picking up a new Surface computer, complete with stylus and portable keyboard. Alas I didn’t have a spare $800 burning a hole in my pocket, but at least now I have something to dream about.

There is an open area in the back of the store for classroom sessions and meetings.

There is an open area in the back of the store for classroom sessions and meetings.

Surface tablet with keyboard and stylus. You would think I would have drawn something more interesting on the screen when I was trying it out.

Surface tablet with keyboard and stylus. You would think I would have drawn something more interesting on the screen when I was trying it out.

Simple, straightforward displays allow the focus to be on the product and features.

Simple, straightforward displays allow the focus to be on the product and features.

As I walked out of the store I noticed the deftly executed backlit window sign. Actually I had seen this from across the aisle, where I left the family earlier, but the video wall had usurped this window sign in my giddy excitement. Now I examined the window sign closer. It was really well done. Graphically it tied into Microsoft’s phone software. The edge  and back lighting were flawless. And the sign artfully suspended itself visually as if in mid-air (it actually sandwiches the store window, but your eye couldn’t care less about the glass window).

I love this simple backlit window sign.

I love this simple backlit window sign.

In my imagination and experience as a designer the window sign and the highly technical video wall were both visual delights, that borders upon being downright mythical in my opinion. I was very impressed.

I would say that the store is doing its job. At least for me. I went in with a few minutes to kill and left with visions of Surface tablets and the Xbox One dancing in my head. I will definitely plan another trip to the Microsoft store to take a closer look. Honey, if you’re reading…you might want to confiscate my credit card before I go back.