This weekend I read an article in the NY Times about new retail kiosks that will be coming to a store near you. I was happy to see that the examples from the article were created by the San Francisco office of Frog Design. When I read the article, I was reminded of an art project I worked on several years ago and the post I wrote a couple weeks ago about how some of the best marketing ideas bubble up from the arts. Here’s an example from my life:


(c) NY Times An artist’s rendering of an automated service island for a retail store from Intel and Frog Design.

From My Art

Back in 2001 I exhibited an installation entitled ROOM for which I created an initial experience designed to take the viewer’s mind off what they were thinking about before they arrived at the gallery. I used to think of it in culinary terms as a “cleansing of the palette”.  As they walked through the gallery entramce, they would see a video camera obviously positioned above the doorway. Once through the doorway they were confronted with a video screen that was obviously getting a video feed from the camera over the doorway. But something was off because the video showed someone walking up to the doorway, but there wasn’t anyone behind the viewer. Most people then noticed something very familiar about the person on the screen, it was them! What was happening, was that the video was delayed by about 15 seconds. The effect of this experience was intended to be jarring enough to distract viewers from anything they might have been thinking about before entering.

Mirror Stage

Mirror Stage is a simple concept that uses a similar video delay to improve the interaction customers have with mirrors in  retail clothing stores. The system uses an inexpensive camera that is embedded in the center of a flat screen television, along with a hacked Tivo box. A customer would walk up to the screen to see how a piece of clothing looked on them. They would use the screen as a mirror. What is unique about the system is that there would be a button on the wall that would allow the customer to delay the video (essentially hitting pause, then play on the Tivo). This would allow them to turn around and then look back at the screen to watch themselves turning around for themselves! No more adjusting mirrors, or twisting your neck to see your own reflection.

I though it was a rather clever idea, but never really got the project off the ground. I think the next generation of  kiosks is a great place to revisit the concept though, especially considering that the experience of watching yourself in delay is highly engaging. The NY Times article also talks about a partnership between I.B.M and EZface that allows kiosks to offer virtual makeovers. Basically, it takes a photograph of the customer’s face and allows them to digitally apply cosmetic treatments.

UPDATE: MarketingVox: a dressing room technology that made me laugh …. and maybe cry.

The Marketing Value

It goes without saying that the marketing value that could emerge from these new kiosks is significant. Simply understanding the kinds of questions that customers are searching for in-store versus online should offer insight into how to improve customer satisfaction. In the article Frog’s chief creative director talks about how sophisticated the online retail experience is (for example, the way it makes recommendations) and how that experience has not been available in store previously. It’s a good point, and one that deserves analysis based on use.

Beyond that, I  see how such as system could drive real-time layout changes in the store based on what customers are trying on most. Of course, it could also allow them to see the store inventory, and divert purchases online when the desired item is not in-store. I also think there are interesting opportunities to bring community into the experience, use analytics to return value to customers through the display, and connect the expereince customers have across touch-points.

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