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Branded Environments: Ten Technologies Redefining Retail


The retail industry is undergoing a transformation of epic proportions.  Two weeks ago, serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen of Netscape fame predicted the eventual death of bricks-and-mortar retail in favor of pure play ecommerce.  Reid Hoffman responded with a more balanced view that envisions a world where innovations in software and social media bring the off-line and on-line retail worlds together in an ever more seamless integrated experience. 


Underlying either forecast is the acknowledgement that technology has irreversibly changed the way consumers shop.  With cookie-enabled personalization on the web and ubiquitous access to information via their mobile phones, consumer expectations are rapidly changing. On-line shoppers expect web sites they visit frequently to remember them, and the apps in their pockets to recognize where they are.  And they are willing to provide a certain amount of personal information in exchange for what they see as an overall better experience.

These same expectations are bleeding over to physical retail. Consumers increasingly expect the off-line experience they have with a retail brand to not only be integrated with the one they have on-line, but to also provide similar levels of personalization and functionality.

Fortunately, the pace of innovation in retail technologies has quickened, empowering consumers like never before. Over 50% of shoppers now walk into stores with powerful computers in their pockets. Mobile payments and self-checkout are becoming everyday experiences.  Shoppers will soon think nothing of linking their bank account to an on-line payment platform like Square.

And advances in mobile software and in-store display technologies are transforming certain offline retail experiences. As Reid Hoffman rightly puts it: "Software will not replace all offline retail, but will be used instead to transform certain offline retail experiences. Software can bring more customers to the stores, increase conversion in the store, reduce overall costs for the retailer via better analytics on supply and demand, and -- for the customer -- create a radically better real life shopping experience.

Here, courtesy of the Control Group 2013 Retail Technology Survey, are eight technologies redefining the physical retail experience.

1. Computer Vision and Facial Coding

Though motion can be sensed through non-visual means, in today’s retail environments, the use of Computer Vision (CV) through digital and depth-sensing cameras, such as Microsoft’s Kinect, are beginning to dominate the field. The ability to “see” a customer in relationship to product and environment is a powerful tool for providing tailored experiences in real-time. Additionally, the same infrastructure is also an effective way to generate unique metrics to aid marketers in refining their overarching strategy.

The BMW “i Window Into The Near Future” uses3D cameras, blob detection, and high-lumen projection to digitally transform passing cars into electric concept vehicles.


• At Shelf / Counter - CV at shelf is unique in that it can provide utility to multiple stakeholders. As a selling tool, it can detect product interest in the form of gaze, customer vector, or physical interaction, which can be used to trigger a consumer-facing experience. This can even include finer detections of hair color, skin tone or apparel. When used by brands and merchandisers as a way to measure environment and product interaction, it can uncover valuable insight into the effectiveness of in-store marketing efforts.

• Media Targeting - As stated above, CV can be used to detect product interest, physical direction, and consumer appearance. Screens within visual range of a consumer or group can be triggered to play content, such as images, video or interactive media, depending on a desired behavior or target demographic.

• Venue Experience - CV can also be used as a driver for interactive experiential marketing. Video walls, projections, spotlighting and audible cues are examples of sensory responses to a CV trigger. Additionally, at the venue level, CV can be used to drive useful data for consumer use. Notifications for open registers, short lines, or staff locations can all be captured and shared using CV.

• In Window - With few exceptions, CV and motion detection are the lowest cost, highest yield methods bringing interactivity to in-window marketing efforts. An inexpensive camera is all that is required to detect a consumer’s proximity. Perfect for triggering attraction media, and better still for providing a consumer with the ability to interact with product and branded media through the glass.

2. Touch- and Gesture-based Interaction

A discussion on interactive technology would be incomplete without an homage to the concepts John Underkoffler created for Minority Report. Though this movie was set in the year 2054, the technology envisioned is already here. Rapid advances in touch detection and screen technologies have brought us stunning new ways to interact with onscreen media. Touchfilms, holographics, transparent LCDs, acoustic and “touchless” visual detection are bringing us into this futuristic vision of immersive media today. And thanks to Apple, the iPhone effect has ignited an industry and provided a generation with training on the visual manipulation of information. Today, a screen within reach that does not respond to touch is perceived as broken.

OTG Management has put an iPad at every seat in the Delta terminals of LaGuardia and Minneapolis-St. Paul airports, giving travelers free access to the Web and the ability to order from OTG’s in-terminal restaurants.


• At Shelf / Counter / Sampling - iPads and small touch screens at a counter are already becoming cost-of-entry for many luxury brands. With an intuitive interface, a consumer can be presented with a low-friction method to explore deeper brand or product information. Easily updated, and easily maintained, these small screens are appearing anywhere a
brand can engage a customer at their moment of decision. Simple deployments can be on-counter, in small countertop displays, or richer experiences can be supported by embedded screens in counters or retail fixtures. Used effectively, these screens can also capture product experience feedback, as well as provide a platform for social amplification. And, of course, interactivity can be extended through scanners, cameras and natural language recognition.

• Wayfinding - The archaic static directory with the “You Are Here” arrow has given way to interactive wayfinding solutions. These can be deployed in large common spaces for course directions, or down at shelf level to aid with product location. Even prior to providing wayfinding, a well designed solution can assist a consumer with her choices, helping consumers focus their attention on particular products or brands, and offering incentives.

• Assisted Selling (Kiosk) / Media Targeting - Today’s interactive kiosk bears little resemblance to the boxy arcade-style units that dominated retail a few short years ago. Transparent LCDs, projection & touchfilms and Apple-esque industrial design have given
retail brands sleek, beautifully crafted solutions that attract consumers. The experience can be highly personalized through the use of loyalty profiles. And again, the use of additional sensory input can be used to increase the value of the engagement for the consumer.

• In-Window - The use of projection and adhesive touchfilms has turned store windows into fertile marketing real estate. Any storefront can now be transformed into an interactive media display. Interactive experiences can be varied by time of day to drive different behavior. For example, daytime media designed to drive store traffic vs. evening media for driving an e-commerce experience.

3. Projection

Gaining popularity as an experiential marketing technique, 3D projection mapping can transform the drabbest spaces into vibrant, immersive domains. This technology can be effectively leveraged in-venue and as an out-ofhome tactic to electrify and showcase large architectural features, or across entire buildings. This technique has also been used successfully in smaller deployments to create holographic effects using thin films and glass as refraction surfaces.

The utility in these applications can be informational and contextual, enabling flexible customization of real-world spaces and products much in the same way achieved by online interactive tools. For example, Austrian wood material specialist EGGER-Holzwerkstoffe is using projection to enable architects, designers and product developers to make purchasing decisions by seeing different styles and wood textures in real-time.

Woolite uses Perch’s interactive display technology to engage customers to
spend time learning about the product in a fun, effective way.


• At Shelf / Counter - Deployed using small projectors, products and display cases can be brought to life with carefully mapped motion graphics. Projected on packaging or other objects, these graphics are capable of activating the physical forms or altering them with the appearance of motion. This can also include small holograms that can either be stand-alone content, or be made to appear to interact with product.

• Venue / In-Window - The most sensational use of 3D projection is on large-scale architectural surfaces. Virtually any physical shape can be mapped and absorbed into the fantasy world created by the content artist. Columns, windows,doors, walls, floors, ceilings and furnishings are all fair game to be used as media. Whole buildings are transfigured and come alive through mapped motion graphics. In the case of in-window deployments, in addition to exciting mapped objects, 3D projection can drive incredibly engaging, life-size holographic effects.

EGGER-Holzwerkstoffe’s Virtual Design Studio uses 3D projection mapping to showcase their
material finishes on real physical models in different configurations and combinations.

4. Printed Electronics

Electro-conductive and doped inks now allow the printing of fully functional electronics on a wide variety of substrates, such as glass, plastic, paper and ceramics. Retail packaging can now be brought to life and made interactive using little more than specialized printing techniques and a small power source. These printable circuits include LEDs, e-ink displays, batteries, RAM, transistors, as well as sensors for light, heat, pressure and chemicals. Coupled with inductive shelving and wireless power, printed electronics are particularly well-suited for bringing consumer packaged goods to life while on-shelf. These technologies can drive engaging effects designed right into the product with no need for batteries.

Fulton Innovation’s eCoupled Illuminated packaging makes an eye-catching statement on grocery store shelves.


• At Shelf / Counter / Packaging - Packaged goods can be designed to engage consumers using a variety of printable electronics. Light and pressure sensors can be leveraged to detect movement and drive changes to the packaging. Small e-ink displays, LEDs, sounds, glowing inks, and printable integrated circuits can be triggered to enhance the marketing of the product.

5. Wireless Interactivity (RFID/NFC)

Radio frequency identification (RFID) has long been a tool of the retail supply chain. Advances in antenna designs and software have given retailers new ways to use RFID as an effective means to engage consumers. Products that have been tagged for security and inventory control can now trigger in-store analytic systems designed to drive
media and assisted selling. When properly leveraged, RFID tags are elevated from a logistics tool to an effective means of driving demand. NFC, a subset of RFID with a shorter range, is increasingly found in many mobile phones and consumer devices.

Bàcaro, a wine retailer at Zurich Airport, uses RFID labels on their bottles to upsell and cross-sell merchandise


• At Shelf / Counter - RFID can be used effectively to detect physical product engagement. Moving or placing an RFID-tagged item can trigger a wide variety of actions. These can range from media and audio players, to visual cues, such as lighting, to touchscreens pre-loaded with complementary content.

• Assisted Selling (Kiosk) / Sampling - A properly constructed display or kiosk is an excellent way to leverage RFID-tagged product. The trigger can be used to alert a sales associate, or begin an assisted shopping process. Curated product associations can drive a customer to consider complementary products, or be used to offer or dispense samples of product based on demonstrated interest.

• Media Targeting - Directional antennas have been successfully used to detect product motion at a distance. These detections are well-suited to drive targeted media to screens with proximity to the customer. Lifting “product a” can drive media relating to that product, or drive complementary media to inform the shopper of curated recommendations. Hotspots can also be positioned in various locations where those complementary products may be on display. An example of this might be as a customer walks past a rack of belts holding an
RFID-tagged blouse, media above the rack begins to display images or video of that blouse with a particular belt.

• Packaging / POS - In addition to the examples above, embedding RFID into the packaging of a product is effective for extending the long-term usefulness of the container at checkout. Readers at a POS or counter can be used to continue driving sponsored media or experiences, including product offers, replenishment recommendations, or to associate the purchase with a tagged loyalty card.

In addition to all that's happening in hardware, here are a handful of software innovations retailers should keep an eye on.

6. Shopkick explicitly deploys the power of smartphones to enhance your shopping experience. At home, you can identify the products that interest you and have those guide your feet – together with earning rewards in a unique universal loyalty program. As a testimony to its success, the app is already one of the 5 most widely used shopping apps in the country according to Nielsen (alongside eBay and Amazon.) It’s software amplifying retail.

7. Wrapp brings social commerce to retail, by enabling social gift cards on mobile. These cards spread through social action on mobile and social platforms, both for special occasions like birthdays and for more general purposes like corporate gifting. The Wrapp gift cards then bring you to redeem at retail locations. Software amplifying (and socializing) retail.

8. Swipely brings easy analytics and marketing tools to local restaurants and retailers – for free, bundled with transparent payment processing at standard prices. These analytics can then can drive smarter communications, marketing offers, and loyalty programs. Here, software enhancing the retail experience for consumers through small merchant CRM and loyalty.

9. Cardspring magnifies the capabilities of your payment credit cards. Retailers can create marketing and loyalty programs that consumers can add to their payment cards – and when the card is used at the specific retail store, the loyalty program automatically applies. Again, software that both moves customers to retail and enhances the experience.

10. moves the entire world of coupons to the digital world. Many millions of consumers deploy coupons every day – it’s easier for them to discover, collect, and deploy those coupons via the internet than newspapers. Software driving retail engagement.

What a great time to be in retail!

About Hood Branded Environments

Hood envisions, designs and produces immersive branded environments that help our clients deepen engagement with their customers.

We've been in business for 20+ years. We started out making trade show exhibits and museum fixtures, and we’ve grown into retail and multi-channel experiential projects, including pop-up stores.

We’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest, most exciting brands on the planet like Sony, Levi’s, Coors, Francis Ford Coppola and David Copperfield.

For more information, visit our website at

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