Playful sell

Customer silhouettes displayed on plasma screens,
ability testing and golf games – Maeve Hosea
looks at what some forward-thinking retailers are
offering their shoppers as the high-street scene
becomes ever more digital and interactive

Underneath the the iconic lights of London’s Piccadilly Circus’s illuminated advertising hoardings, the new Barclays branch is dazzling passers-by with its own version of state-of-the-art conspicuous consumption.

Outside of opening hours, the front of the new flagship branch has been transformed into the Night Life screen. This digital installation picks up the image of passers-by, using face recognition technology and cameras to create moving silhouettes on the screen, together with thought bubbles containing random humorous messages. ‘Our brand is about being warm and witty,’ says a Barclays spokeswoman. ‘The little messages coming across keep the brand going over night.’

Barclays, working with design group The One Off, has created a forward-facing ambience and enhanced the experience of people using its branch by making extensive use of new digital technology and design. In its Premier Lounge, Barclays is the first bank in Europe to pilot Microsoft Surface, a technology that allows users to literally grab digital content with their hands on a table-top surface and navigate information with simple gestures and touches.

But the main focus of the branch, and the first aspect visitors will see when walking in, is what Barclays refers to as a ‘generosity piece’, a pure brand experience. Being London is an interactive installation that represents London and what people in the capital are doing, talking about and interested in. It does this by displaying content from blogs and information from London listings bible Time Out on to a huge series of plasma screens. With the use of personal consoles, the design also allows people to contribute to the installation.

‘Technology is a very good tool to effect some kind of engagement between the customer and the brand,’ says Michael Sheridan, managing director of Michael Sheridan & Company. ‘The biggest opportunity lies in its interactivity; if you engage with it, it can surprise you.’ Pernod Ricard’s international campaign for its whisky brand Ballantine’s in airport retail is rolling out across the UK, Europe and Russia with an aim to encourage customers to trade up to the premium range. Michael Sheridan & Company has developed an interactive golf game for the travel retail space, which enables players to win prizes while communicating information about Ballantine’s.

As the Ballantine’s project identifies, taking part is the most important aspect of any game. Similarly, sports brand Adidas has worked with the digital team at Start Creative and environment designer Judge Gill to turn high-end technology into a fun, accessible and engaging customer experience around its MiCoach training product. The aim is to empower consumers to improve their sporting ability by experimenting with features on a specifically designed Core Skills website. The installation, currently in-store in Berlin and Beijing, encompasses touch-screen testing units housed in stainless steel and strikes a careful balance between being playful and scientific. Customers can get involved by assessing their balance, jumping ability and speed.

‘We always start with thinking about the desired emotional impact of an environment on the people who use it,’ says David Judge of Judge Gill. ‘With this project it is the “mirrored” sense of achievement and excitement a coach or manager gets when their athlete or team wins. We designed the physical and digital installations as a sequence to deliver this emotion.’

Buying into the breadth, the legacy and the history of a brand based on discovery, customers in National Geographic’s exciting store in London get to grips with various installations, including digital showpieces. ‘The digital installation allows the store to come alive interactively,’ says Liz Nickless, director of communications at National Geographic. ‘It highlights constantly evolving National Geographic mission projects from around the world, allowing consumers to see what National Geographic’s explorers and grantees do.’

With radical changes in shopper behaviour prompted by both widespread use of the Internet and a global economic downturn, retailers need to work harder than ever. ‘In the face of recession, the high street has to be redefined so that it recognises retail is about giving us time to stay and play,’ says Howard Saunders, creative director of retail research group Echochamber. ‘Technology such as digital installation can play a part in keeping us in the store and get us experiencing the brand.’

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