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[8 comments]

Virtual CEO gives Super Bowl tourists a reason to go to Mo's

January 31, 2014

As part of its Super Bowl marketing hoopla, Mitchell Modell, the CEO of Modell's Sporting Goods, appears as an avatar in the retailer's Time Square flagship store. The digital image welcomes, thanks, informs and engages customers.

The "Virtual Mitchell Modell" employs technology from Tensator, which gained attention back in 2011 when it brought a "Virtual Assistant" to Duane Reade's Wall Street megatore, the first reported use of such digital technology at retail. Tensator also just introduced two Virtual Assistants — both named "Louise" and wearing a full Heathrow security uniform — to check points at Heathrow Airport.

With its interactive push button panel, the "Virtual Mitchell Modell" suggests Super Bowl gear, shares information on the store's merchandise mix, informs customers about the store's loyalty program, and provides directions on where to find certain items. He invites shoppers to provide their e-mail addresses upon checkout for up-to-date information on sales and invitations to special events, including celebrity appearances.

In the course of over seven different scripts, customers are thanked often, asked to e-mail Mr. Modell directly to share their in-store experiences, and reminded of Modell's tagline, "You Gotta Go to Mo's!" On the heavily tourist-trafficked street, shoppers are able to access the information in 10 different languages besides English.

"The Tensator Virtual Assistant takes digital signage to a whole new, personalized level," said Lynn LaRocca, senior vice president, marketing at Modell's Sporting Goods, in a statement. "Our Time Square store is regularly really busy — and with the added Super Bowl traffic, we needed a real attention grabber. It's fantastic to be able to capture the personality of Mitchell and have him be the one to guide, inform and connect with shoppers from all over the world as the face of the company and its brand."

Discussion Questions:

What do you think of the opportunity for retail executives or even celebrities to serve as virtual store assistants? Do you see virtual assistants becoming more than a rare occurrence at retail in the years ahead?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

What's the likelihood that virtual assistants will be fairly common at retail over the next two to three years?

Comments:

As long as the virtual assistant is someone clearly in alignment with the retailer/brand DNA, it will work well and is likely to proliferate. This can be a celebrity CEO, a famous pitchman, or even a character.

However, I am not looking forward to their inevitable use "just because we can" - as non-aligned VAs will be seen as intrusive, annoying, and overdone.

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Mike Osorio, Senior VP Organizational Change Management, DFS Group

At this point virtual store assistants are a great attention getter. The generate stories and discussion such as this one about the retailer.

Perhaps I missed them, but I have not yet seen anything that indicates that they actually helped generate additional footfalls and/or sales. Did read that they were proven to be beneficial in speeding up the lines for airport security by decreasing the number of bags that needed to be rescanned, but no hard number from the retailers that have deployed them.

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Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

These kinds of virtual assistants would be more effective online and on mobile, than in-store. Today, since most stores are not auto-shop, virtual assistants in-store are gimmicky.

Instead, augmented reality assistants - including celebrities - will be in aisles. And, they will have personalized messages for shoppers.

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Liz Crawford, VP, Strategy & Insights, Match Drive

Virtual assistants can be an asset if they are programmed to be responsive to the shopper's needs. I like the idea of Mitch Modell initiating it for the Super Bowl. The Modell name is synonymous with professional football.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

OMG, that's awful! We know that the emotional factor in terms of being in a store and talking to another person is HUGE. So, why on earth would you want to drop robots, holograms and other such human impersonators in? To ruin the emotional connection?

That type of thing should be done online, IMO. Where the entire experience is functional. Adding some kind of human element would be a plus.

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Lee Peterson, EVP Creative Services, WD Partners

I definitely see virtual assist-ance as becoming more and more embraced by retailers. Retail needs to address the path to purchase for every type of shopper and that does not always involve the need to speak to a real person.

The customer may simply need directions, a price check, balance on their gift card, you get the picture.

We have all heard numbers over the years that indicate large percents of shoppers who enter a store and are not "meaningfully engaged" with a certain amount of time, will exit without buying anything.

That is why it is so important that each retailer determine the multiple paths to purchase for their shoppers and make sure some form of engagement is there to greet them along the way. Just sayin'....

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

This is an interesting approach to information. These could be frustrating to harried consumers who want quick answers to their questions, without waiting for basic replies to standardized questions, or they might be viewed so uniquely that their very presence is a plus. Only time will tell, as our technology advances these to become even more human-like and helpful....

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Kai Clarke, President, Kowa Optimed, Inc.

It a fantastic idea to drive traffic. But people still would require a human touch in other not so populated areas. At least for few years to come, this would be an urban store phenomenon.

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Shilpa Rao, Practice Head - Merchandising, Tata Consultancy Services

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