Retailers need to embrace technology in new ways in order to meet the expectations of consumers who want to feel welcome when they shop. And while some brick-and-mortar establishments think they're destined to lose sales to ecommerce, others are using self-service technology to remain relevant to today's consumers.
|A visitor experiences the virtual brandhouse.|
The first Kiosk Marketplace Influencer of the Year award goes to Christiana DiMattesa, the innovative marketing executive who came up with the idea for the Under Armour virtual brandhouse that mesmerized shoppers in Boston prior to the opening of the company's first store in that city.
DiMattesa, Under Armour senior retail marketing manager and an ICX advisory board member, wanted her company's flagship store to make home turf protective Bostonians accepting of the Under Armour brand. By tapping a local celebrity, she won the community's favor with a fun, personalized, interactive media presentation that went live weeks ahead of the store's opening.
In search of a different experience
DiMattesa, who did stints at Ann Taylor and Foot Locker before joining Under Armour three and a half years ago, knew she needed to give Bostonians a different retail experience to endear them to her store.
Working with her creative partner, Next/Now, she came up with a virtual reality experience that took people on a tour of the of the store while it was still under construction.
"The first ever VR barricade came to life in our Boston Prudential Center location," DiMattesa told Kiosk Marketplace. "The store was designed beautifully and we wanted to showcase that prior to opening our doors."
|Visitors received a virtual guided tour of the future store.|
"When you looked into that barricade, you were immediately greeted by a virtual version of Boston's own Jackie Bradley, Jr. from the Red Sox who led the tour of our new space," she said.
DiMattesa got the idea for the virtual brandhouse after coming across new construction in New York City and noticing people waiting in line to look through a Plexiglas window to see the construction. She herself waited in line for a chance to look through the window.
"I waited in line to look though a small Plexiglas window and all I saw was bulldozers moving dirt around," DiMattesa said. "What would have been exciting is if I looked through that barricade window and was immersed in what that future construction would be. It seemed so simple, and a new and exciting way to utilize a barricade to drive engagement with customers in a new city."
She met with Next/Now, a digital experiential marketing agency, and asked them what they thought about her idea for a virtual reality presentation of the store at the barricade, and they immediately loved it.
"I thought it was fantastic," said Randy Gress, director of business development at Next/Now. "She wanted to do something that had never been (done) before."
Next/Now provided the technological expertise to create the virtual brandhouse. In August of 2016, Next/Now began installing two virtual reality headsets at the barricade for passersby to peer into. The project went live from mid-September to the end of October.
Introducing the brand to Boston
"We weren't trying to sell anything from our barricade," DiMattesa explained. "We were trying to provide a new and engaging experience for those passing by our future location. Our main KPIs were to drive awareness and excitement as well as capturing data. Having the ability to communicate to consumers in the market prior to an opening is a necessity for success."
"No more 'pardon our mess,' but instead, 'please enjoy what our brand new store will become,'" the video narrator explained, calling it the most successful "coming soon" sign in the history of retail construction.
DiMattesa did not wish to share information on the cost of the project.
One purpose was to impress upon patrons the store's innovation.
Another purpose was to promote the store. After visitors provided their email addresses, the company was able to send them emails about the store.
"It was very important that we not only provided an interactive experience, but that we connected with all of those future customers that engaged with the barricade and invited them back to the grand opening of the store with a special offer," she said.
The city, the police, the mayor and the Prudential Center, the area where the store is located, all embraced the project.
Close to 2,000 people signed up for the store's grand opening, according to Next/Now. There were more than 100 users a day and a total of 4,500. At 6.5 minutes per session, there was a total 29,250 minutes by all users.
While traditional retail has lost ground to ecommerce, DiMattesa believes retail can and must change to remain relevant to consumers.
"Retail is an exciting place to be a part of right now," she said. "Consumer purchasing has shifted greatly from spending on material items to experiences. As a marketer, this has shifted our mindset of how we drive traffic and engagement in our stores."
"Building brand affinity isn't solely about selling great products, it's about building a relationship with your consumer and providing more than just material goods," she said. "It's about breaking down the barrier between brand and customer and welcoming your customers into your family. Our house is your house."
"How do we always provide a really great brand experience in our retail footprint driving loyalty to our brand and our products?" DiMattesa asked.
A supportive team
She appreciated the fact that she was able to launch a new idea quickly and not have to go through a series of processes to get approval for the concept.
"I've been asked by a lot of my peers in the industry about how to get through the layers of approvals to get buy-in for innovative ideas," she said. "My advice has been that if you have an idea that can answer a business need and is measurable, prove it out on paper. If you can prove the potential in advance and find a way to get it done and still cannot get buy-in, then maybe you're at the wrong company. An innovative mindset and support system needs to start at the top. "
The store has become one of the highest trafficked stores in the 19-store chain, she said.
The company has discussed replicating the concept in some markets outside of North America, but it is unlikely they will do the same thing.
"Long gone are the days in retail of replicating the same tactics over and over again," DiMattesa said. "With an ever changing consumer, you must continue to iterate, innovate and improve to stay relevant."
She is the first to recognize that meeting this challenge is not easy.
"There are some things in retail that haven't changed in years and maybe there's a reason and maybe not," she said. "As retail marketers, it's our job to identify these areas and figure out if there's a better way."
The company's focus for 2018 will be on emphasizing the stores' community experiences.
"If you can connect with one person an emotional connection, then that's a win," she said. "Driving promoters of the brand will drive increased loyalty and purchase frequency."
The virtual brandhouse also received the ICX Influencer of the Year award at the 2017 ICX Summit in Dallas.
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.