by -- October 03, 2014

As the weather begins to get cooler in Chicago, my thoughts go towards the famous Marshall Field's (now Macy’s) Christmas windows on State Street. Since 1897, these annual window displays have captivated children, shoppers and visitors in Chicago during the holiday shopping season. More than a century later, in today's omnichannel retail environment, many of the same principles that inspired those Christmas Windows to "bring the store to life" continue as retailers and consumer brands find innovative ways to make their in-store experiences relevant, contextual, differentiated and engaging for customers. 

For example, Intel and Adidas have partnered together to combine their digital and in-store brand experiences. Their interactive store display is a wall of touch screens showing virtual footwear wall where customers can browse Adidas products, view social media comments and reviews, and even design their own Adidas shoes. Adidas created a virtual experience that is as close to the physical shopping experience as possible and made it into an immersive interaction. In this way, Adidas is able to bring a unique customer experience to those who visit physical stores, while still connecting them to the "endless aisle" of product assortment and social commentary related to the brand. 

Other examples of digitally interactive displays include both Macy's Magic Fitting Room and John Lewis's Magic Mirror. For both retailers, the combination of augmented reality and integration with social media provides an immersive, digital, in-store experience. Cameras integrated into the displays provide real time images of the shopper facing the display, and the display itself allows shoppers to digitally "try on" different apparel items. Customers can share images of themselves trying on the different outfits with their social networks for affirmation and feedback. This is one clever way to prevent buyer's remorse – “My friends said I looked good in it before I bought it, right?”

One extension of in-display camera technology is facial recognition. Kairos is one company that is already recognized as a leader in facial recognition technology. Their solutions are used for time and attendance (e.g. Kronos), security access to buildings, content, and assets.  Emotient is another company that is combining facial recognition and machine learning for real-time facial expression detection and sentiment analysis. Their algorithms and technology can detect a broad range of facial expressions across a wide spectrum of joy, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, contempt and disgust. 

One UK retailer, Knit, was recently featured in Design Week and the Best Window Display website for their "Face in the Snow" campaign, which used facial recognition to engage shoppers in a unique way. When the facial recognition software recognized facial expressions known to be associated with genuine interest from the shoppers, the interactive display snapped their picture and then displayed a unique code that could be sent via SMS to friends providing them with a link to the photo, as well as the option of sharing that photo on Facebook.

The potential for interactive, in-store displays to adjust and modify content based on real time customer reactions presents interesting opportunities for retailers and consumer brands. Facial recognition, sentiment analysis, and dynamic content management could enable retailers and brands to elevate and differentiate their in-store customer experience from competitors. 

On the other hand, it is far from clear how shoppers will react when they find out that retailers are taking cues from their face, or the emotions it conveys. It could be viewed as clever…or downright creepy. How would you react if you knew the store display you were looking at was also looking right back at you?