Retailers Go High-Tech for Holiday

NEW YORK — As the holiday shopping season ramps up, brands are betting big on technology-driven concept stores to push the boundaries of brick-and-mortar.

Rebecca Minkoff and Ugg Australia recently opened new locations that emphasize personalized styling, content and a mobile-ready experience.

“We talked a lot about the path to conversion with e-commerce, then we thought about how we envisioned things to get that path to work in retail,” said Uri Minkoff, CEO of Rebecca Minkoff. “We saw so many broken points in the process and started dreaming.”

While retailers have been struggling to adapt traditional models to an increasingly digital and mobile-first shopper, one of Minkoff’s advantages was that the company had a completely blank slate to work with stateside — the New York store is the brand’s first in the U.S.

The company also had an experienced partner in eBay, with whom it had worked with on a holiday touchscreen pop-up shop last Christmas at Westfield San Francisco Centre.

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EBay and Minkoff again turned to large touch screens when they were planning the latter’s shop. The technology allows consumers to do everything from ordering a complimentary latte to selecting key items they like to take into a fitting room. The shopper receives a text message on their phone when their beverage and fitting room are ready.

More importantly, the wall acts as a virtual merchandiser that can highlight a particular product depending on the hour of the day or business focus. It will also feature selected blogger and Instagram images alongside its traditional e-commerce shots.

The emphasis on using technology to craft a personal and local experience is a key emphasis for the company.

Rebecca Minkoff
Rebecca and Uri Minkoff in their new store.
CREDIT: Steve Eichner

“We can know when a certain shoe and jacket are doing well in a San Francisco store, for example, and we can prioritize them and adjust e-commerce messages around those items,” Minkoff said. “[Our technology is across all of our platforms, so] it can impact the lines of communication based on a certain area because of the data we are getting.”

It’s a concept similar to that of Deckers Brands’ newest Ugg shop at Tysons Galleria in McLean, Va.

As part of a push to further develop Ugg as a true multifaceted lifestyle brand, the 2,110-sq.-ft. shop highlights the website in-store, as well as customization options.

“Ugg by You” and “Bling It On” allow users to design and order product on the spot. Additionally, touch screens let shoppers discover new product online that might not be available in-store. The company partnered with Control Group, a New York-based technology retail firm, on the project. “This is a big test for us, but it’s really about understanding and enhancing the customer experience,” said Dave Powers, president of omnichannel for Deckers. “We know other brands have strong social followings, which would make sense for this type of project, but we chose Ugg because it has such an elevated service orientation.”

One of the key aspects of the shopping experience, according to both brands, is the process of discovery.

Ugg has implemented radio-­frequency (RFID) tags in its products to cue unique content, styling suggestions and similar offerings.

“Having this information from the screens allows us to know who is in the store and what they like. It helps us to provide targeted marketing and merchandise appropriate for them,” said Powers.

Rebecca Minkoff took RFID a step further by creating smart fitting rooms that register each individual piece that’s brought into them. It also allows shoppers to create their own experience using the fitting room mirror, which doubles as a touch screen, to shop online, call for other sizes and discover matching pieces. The data collected from the fitting room also allows Minkoff sales associates to bring shoppers suggested pieces that they know have high conversion rates.

So: Will consumers buy into the tech?

Most experts say yes. “Being innovative, being progressive and being at the forefront will not only create customer loyalty but will also help with the image. This investment is as much in marketing as it is in retail efficiency,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group.

Other experts are also anticipating brands testing new technology to more nimbly respond to consumer needs. “We’re seeing experimentation right now,” said Andrea Weiss, founder of The O Alliance retail consultants. “Everyone is watching closely to see what happens, but there is no silver bullet.”

Going forward, Rebecca Minkoff will bow a San Francisco store in December and a Los Angeles unit in 2015, as well as two additional stores in undisclosed locations. All will incorporate the new format. “We have had so many people in [the past few days saying], ‘You gave me something I never knew I wanted, and now I can’t live without it,'” Minkoff said.

At Ugg, Deckers plans to debut its technology in all future stores, as well as integrate it into its 120 existing Ugg units.

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