10 Mar 2017

What is Digital Visual Merchandising?

In early 2017, Amazon launched a high-profile marketing campaign for its home assistant system Echo. According to its hundred-video-long advertising series, Amazon Alexa Moments, Echo allows users to ask home assistant Alexa a variety of things, from “Alexa, play ‘My Girl’” to “Alexa, what time is it?” But crucially for retailers—and perhaps unsurprisingly, considering Amazon’s e-commercial origins—many of the videos show Echo users asking Alexa to order products off the internet for home delivery.

At the moment, it still seems alien for people to use home assistants as casually and frequently as this, but Amazon’s barrage of ads is designed to change all of that. It’s surely no coincidence that TechCrunch has already claimed the Echo is having its “mainstream moment”.

If people do turn to their voice-activated home assistants for their everyday shopping needs, retail stores will once again face an internet-derived threat to their livelihood. The high street is currently battling the rise of online shopping; retailers will now need to consider how to respond to the rise of home assistants. One way bricks-and-mortar stores have managed to start fighting back against online shopping is through digital visual merchandising. Digital VM merges window displays and in-store VM with cutting edge technology, creating a more engaging in-store display – merging multi-channel shopping platforms.

Prop Studios' gigantic pink Missguided Monster Truck sat right at the front of the store, gathering intense attention from footfall in the centre and huge social media coverage

How does digital visual merchandising work?

Digital visual merchandising brings a new way of interacting with your audience through in-store display, mixing modern techniques with the core skills and values of Visual Merchandising. A digital visual merchandising scheme can increase footfall and encourage ‘shareable moments’ on Social Media.

One further benefit of digital visual merchandising is its versatility; rather than having to stick to the same display throughout a campaign or season, the elements of a digital merchandising campaign can be revised seasonally in line with your latest marketing campaign. This brings new life into window displays, incorporating techniques such as Augmented Reality or QR codes to provide an interactive experience for a store’s target audience.

Digital visual merchandising can turn shopping into an experience

Shopping via a home assistant may be convenient, but even the biggest Alexa fan in the world couldn’t claim that it is more exciting or enjoyable than visiting a store. Bricks-and-mortar, on the other hand, should be just that, and with new technology, it’s easier than ever to create an engaging shopping experience.

Digital visual merchandising is all about creating an exciting and engaging physical environment in-store, and designing the customer experience with it. Traditional store and window design is focused on making products and brands more enticing to the customer. Digital visual merchandising does the same thing, but with added interactivity.

An example project, handled by our sister company FormRoom, is the H&M Capsule Conscious Lounge at Oxford Circus. The lounge featured an interactive selfie booth with a variety of angular mirrors, as well as a touch screen from which shoppers could read information about H&M’s Conscious Collection and pick out their favourite outfits.

These interactive elements add another level of immersion, making the physical act of shopping itself a desirable part of the shopping process. Home assistants don’t offer anywhere near the same level of stimulation.

Exuding brand personality, Prop Studios' visual merchandising scheme for Missguided won two coveted VM & Display awards

Increased convenience can beat home assistants at their own game

Digital visual merchandising will go a long way towards encouraging customers to get out of the house and shop, but there is still more that high street retailers can do. The primary factor in favour of home assistant shopping is convenience. As we see in the Alexa Moments spots, these systems aim to allow completely hassle-free shopping.

To beat these devices at their own game, high street stores must adopt brand relevant convenience in-store. Offering home delivery from store, for example, will attract those put off by having to transport bulky or inconvenient items themselves.

In-store home delivery has already been widely adopted by homeware stores as it allows customers to test out products such as furniture before purchasing, something that Alexa will never be able to do.

Newer ways to increase customer experience in-store are also emerging. The concept of the “digital store”, a version of which is being advanced by Amazon, involves customers creating “user profiles”, saving “wishlists” and placing orders via their smartphones, often without the need for checkouts. In other words, these stores have the convenience of online stores but add brand experience. Shoppers need no longer look online for recommended items based on their shopping habits. All that convenience can take place offline too.

Emphasise what stores can do that home assistants cannot

Beating home assistants at their own game is one thing, but the best way to keep up business is to focus on what your store can offer that a home assistant cannot. The human touch of customer service, for instance, immersive experiences, or exclusive in-store deals. These things, and the adaptations above, will undoubtedly keep your store busy in the age of home assistants.

Our experience in this field and enthusiasm to engage and embrace digital technology makes Prop Studios a unique and highly adaptive company able to work across the globe from pop ups to department stores, galleries and even festivals.

Prop Studios provides a complete design and production process for clients. By incorporating new digital visual merchandising techniques that encourage audience interaction into classical window displays and designs, we can bring new life into your stores.