The Curious Lack of Technology in the Retail Market
Why aren't more retailers using technology to draw potential customers inside their stores?


Build-A-Bear Workshop does a great job using technology to create digital engagement around a toy that over 133 years old.
January 22, 2013 By Mark Coxon

There is a lot of buzz about the future use of retail technology to promote and drive product sales. But it’s funny that some of the most innovative uses of technology in retail are associated with a store that sells a toy that is over 133 years old.

Build-A-Bear Workshop uses touch technology in multiple locations in its stores to help customers build their new best friend, as well as optical tagging on duck and boat toys in digital bathtubs, and optical tag-based X-ray windows to see inside the newly created teddy bears. They do a great job of creating digital engagement around a toy that, let’s face it, is old news.

If Build-A-Bear can take technology and transform the sale of a toy invented in the 1880s, why aren’t other more contemporary companies taking larger steps? “Where have all the cowboys gone?”

Photos: Build-A-Bear Workshop’s Digital Signage All Grown Up

Orange County, Calif. has an upscale mall called South Coast Plaza. It’s just south of the entertainment capital of the world, and home to quite a few well-to-do individuals. The retailers range from ones I’ve never heard of and could never afford to mall staples, including the Apple Store.

Yet somehow, very few have employed technology to engage customers, beyond playing a music video on a screen wall, or making a flat panel into a phone and playing an app commercial on it in the window.

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Sure, there are a few outposts that have been set up.  Microsoft took Apple’s Lightbox signage idea and upped the ante with over 100 screens in a 2 by “x” screen wall that wraps the store.  Tourneau, a watch retailer, has a small display that employs a Peppers Ghost to “float” a Bentley video over a Breitling watch made especially for the automaker.  The Disney Store has acrylic projection trees that display fairies and other Disney staples, adding a touch of magic to the aisles as you walk through.

But there’s nothing that would make you come inside if you weren’t already planning to do so. It’s a sad indicator of what the tight purse strings of the last few years have done to the way companies think about promoting their products.  They have tied not just our wallets, but also our minds.  There will be more dollars going to retail kiosks and Point of Purchase (POP) displays in 2013, which will inevitably drive flat panel and PC sales in the short term, but it will do little to inspire merchandising managers to think bigger.

That is our job.

Retailers have huge amounts of glass and display space at their disposal, and in many cases are paying big bucks for them. This is valuable real estate. And when technology is coupled with an investment and innovative ideas, the sky is the limit on what is possible.

Imagine you walk by Ethan Allen and see a stark white room and furniture. You use window and choose a decorating style, configuring the colors and materials inside the room in real time through the glass. You may find yourself telling everyone you know to go by and try for themselves.

Creating a destination that supersedes the business and the product is a valuable use of technology to drive traffic. Incidentally, more traffic equals more revenues.

So saddle up A/V Buckaroos!  Start having conversations with your clients that go beyond black rectangles and content in an old tin can, and you may just spur retail into a whole new territory.

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About the author

Mark Coxon - Sales, Mark
Mark started his technology career at IBM in 2000 before migrating into AV integration in early 2002. He currently works at Horizon Display, an interactive multitouch hardware and software provider. Mark lives in Orange County with Lesley, his wife of 11 years and his 3 children.
View all posts by Mark Coxon
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