Retail Customer Experience: Technology Meets Beauty in a New York Subway Station

Discussion
Nov 26, 2013

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has teamed with L’Oreal to launch an interactive "virtual retail" kiosk that can detect the colors in a user’s clothes and then recommends beauty products with coordinating hues.

The kiosk’s large screen, situated next to a full-length smart mirror, is loaded with software that scans the user to create digital animations that represent their silhouette. The colors the user is wearing appear alongside their reflection, accompanied by eye, lip and nail shade recommendations that match or clash with their outfit.

The kiosk gives customers the option to purchase the recommended products, or if they decide not buy, they can opt to send the look to their e-mail to save for later. A third screen on the kiosk displays blog posts and photos from influential NYC beauty bloggers.

The kiosk, which was developed by digital agency R/GA with advertising muscle from CBS Outdoor, is in a pilot that officially launched Nov. 4 at the city’s Fifth Avenue Bryant Park subway station.

In an interview with Retail Customer Experience’s sister publication, Kiosk Marketplace, Paul Fleuranges, senior director of communication for the MTA, said wide acceptance of its MetroCard Vending Machines has shown that consumers have little aversion to using debit or credit at a vending kiosk to purchase a product. The rollout of its On the Go! Travel Station kiosk, which features travel information, further demonstrates customers’ comfort using kiosks.

Mr. Fleuranges said the MTA has seen retail-focused kiosks used in other systems in the U.S. and elsewhere. It still will be looking to L’Oreal and R/GA for insight into customer interactions, whether passive and active, as well as conversion in assessing the potential for more retail-focused kiosks in stations

"We need to understand the business metrics behind it before we move forward," said Mr. Fleuranges. "But yes, we do have an interest in general in the technology and feel it can help us generate ROI on those in-system real estate assets that are underperforming. They may also play a role where we have removed station booths. Our hope, of course, is that other retail or e-tail focused technology can help us improve the customer experience and also generate additional non-farebox revenue."

What do you see as the greatest opportunities for retailers and brands to use recognition technologies? Do you see a greater potential to use the technologies on store floors or in offsite locations?

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19 Comments on "Retail Customer Experience: Technology Meets Beauty in a New York Subway Station"

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Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

If consumers come to trust recognition technology as being helpful, rather than being Big Brother-ish, it could open a variety of opportunities for retailers and brands, both in-store and offsite. That said, I question whether a NYC subway station is the right location for a kiosk selling cosmetics. The location does not reinforce L’Oreal’s brand image.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Consumers will have an interest in experimenting with the technology. One question is, how long do people typically wait for the next train and how long does it take the technology to detect someone’s image, their clothes, and make recommendations? Another question is, what happens to the scanning activity if other people are crowding around trying to see how the technology works? Will the group of moving people confuse the camera? I think many women would enjoy using the technology, but I am not sure that this is the best location.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Visualization technologies integrated with valued recommendations and easy purchasing is always a good trifecta. People typically have a very difficult time mentally visualizing how something will look in the designing and selection process. Eye glasses, fashion plumbing, lighting fixtures, paint on the walls, and landscaping are all examples that could benefit from visualization technologies.

The MTA’s use of this technology is more a PR opportunity as opposed to a viable business. The technology used to build this kiosk is expensive and doesn’t scale in this type of environment. A mobile version of this ‘kiosk’ may have tremendous success when aligned with the cosmetic counter at Macy’s or Nordstrom.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

First, this is an extremely over-hyped project (containing at least one feature I remember from 2001) and from the estimated $800k+ cost, an extremely overpriced one as well. There’s nothing especially novel here, except that the good folks at R/GA got it into the NYC subway.

Regarding the use of recognition technologies much of that question was answered in my RW article “Is That a Visionary Product Display or a Product Display With Vision?” and the subsequent comments.

The brands that are willing to invest in technology for meaningful engagement will be the winners, in-store or anywhere.

Ron Margulis
BrainTrust

My daughter mentioned seeing this kiosk last weekend, but could only remember that it was selling make-up and not the brand name. Not a good sign for L’Oreal or the MTA.

The concept can work, but like advertising in order to be effective there have to be multiple impressions and those engagement opportunities have to drive messages that the audience will be receptive to. Coordinating the shop with a series of ads in the subway cars and at other stations may even make the pop-up kiosk a destination.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I think not only the technology, but also the strategy of this kiosk is absolutely fantastic and compelling for shoppers to leverage. This example, along with other “pop-up” virtual locations around the world, like South Korea subways, etc., are great opportunities for CPG brands and retailers to get into the lives of their consumers. There is literally no limit to the locations for impulsive shopping instances such as these.

Regarding the recognition technologies involved, I believe this is the next step in the evolution of what other brands have used for years in their flagship stores. This is state-of-the-art suggestive selling that should occur at every location, both onsite at stores and offsite locations. Even bus stops could be great opportunities. Great stuff and the future of shopping to say the least.

Dr. Paul Helman
Guest
Dr. Paul Helman
3 years 8 months ago
My first reaction is that such recognition technology could eventually become a nightmare for our privacy, but let’s first make the (possibly dubious) assumption that we are providing our service only to consenting adults who have opted in with the full understanding of what the implications of the technology might be. Then, the opportunities for applying the technology are enormous! Not only could we provide generic recommendations based on of what an image analysis suggests that someone might need or want today, but we could personalize the recommendations by combing this analysis with knowledge of identity. Not only does the image tell us that Mr. Jones has a tear in his shirt, but we know Mr. Jones’ size, style, and price preferences. Not only do we see that Ms. Smith is coughing today, but we know what is her usual cough medication (and that she ought be prepared for her three-and-a-half year old son soon coming down with the same affliction). No need to limit the technology’s placement within a store, it can be utilized anywhere one might pass carrying a smartphone. Though the current application of recognition technology described in the article is benign, we as a society would… Read more »
John Karolefski
BrainTrust

The technology is certainly interesting and compelling. However, as at least one other poster noted, the subway may not be the ideal place for such a kiosk.

Retailers and brands clearly could place such kiosks on store floors and also in offsite locations. Why not? Give it a test. But it would only work offsite for the retailer if the retail brand is clearly represented along with the trading partner brand.

Bill Davis
Guest

If recognition technologies can drive sales, this will be widely adopted. If not, probably not. And it would seem to me that an associate should be able to match product with the colors a consumer is wearing if properly trained, so I would think this might be more effective in offsite locations.

David Schulz
Guest
David Schulz
3 years 8 months ago

Combining recognition technology with automatic vending can only be a positive for retailers and brands. While the subway location may not be ideal, it is, as others have already mentioned, high-profile and has generated loads of publicity. The major concern for similar ventures in the future will be location, location, location, i.e., finding places where the target customers are and the vandals aren’t.

Arun Channakrishnaiah
Guest
Arun Channakrishnaiah
3 years 8 months ago

Another example of a CPG company trying to reach out to customers directly. A subway station is not the best location to interest your customers in beauty products. L’Oreal might be better off using this technology in malls or partnering with retailers. That would give them a better environment/ambience.

Ed Dunn
Guest
3 years 8 months ago

MTA and Madison Avenue are now embracing the success stories coming out of Tokyo, Seoul and London and other subway systems in growth markets is that they are lucrative opportunities for micro-format retailing and interactive kiosks.

The Uniqlo pop-up shop opened recently at Union Square station is a major success story and more are jumping aboard. Madison Avenue is realizing the subway users are the most mobile-savvy and willing to try out new technology more than any other demographic group.

In terms of recognition technologies, it could be more effective onsite than offsite. Offsite, the recognition could be seen as game material while onsite, the technology could assist in the sales cycle process as a valuable touchpoint tool.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

I think we’ve barely scratched the surface of this type of technology. For now, it may be viewed as a bit “gimmicky.” It won’t be long before recognition technology can recognize what colors the customer is wearing, color of complexion, eyes, hair, etc. It will get more sophisticated, and as a result, will become more accepted. The best is yet to come!

Jesse Karp
Guest
Jesse Karp
3 years 8 months ago

I think this is a big opportunity for retailers when used in the right way. Recognition technology used to identify colors and suggest products is likely less unsettling to most consumers than some of the technology used by Tesco to determine who exactly you are (facial recognition). When Tesco launched their innovative billboards, it was met with much resistance and customers felt like it was a combination of Minority Report and Big Brother.

I believe that there will be potential to use these kiosks in offsite locations bottlenecks (airports, subways) for impulse shopping, but I think this may prove to be a great tool at cosmetics counters in store locations as a way for salespeople to validate their own suggestions to customers and back up offers with credibility.

Matt Schmitt
BrainTrust

Recognition and Visualization technologies are being used for some immersive and engaging digital applications for brands. Many of these apps are targeted at tablets and mobile applications.

The use of these techniques in place-based digital experiences is also growing, and it does indeed provide a “wow” factor and is typically used to create the sense of an event-type experience, rather than the more traditional promotional brand media.

These solutions are typically limited to one or a few locations because the cost of implementation and operation is much higher than a more passive digital media installation. Whether these tools will be incorporated into brands’ out-of-home campaigns on a larger scale is a question that will take some time. They’ll need to see results on engagement and get the costs to be feasible.

Bernice Hurst
BrainTrust

Location, location, location. This story makes me want to cry.

Jeff Hall
BrainTrust

Provided the recognition technology is reliable and accurate (for example, correctly focusing on one individual from within a crowded group), this will be a great way to be uniquely engaged with consumers in a personalized manner.

While location placement will be important to best align with a brand’s personality, one undeniable benefit could be significant foot traffic visibility when you’re least expecting to see an interactive experience.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
3 years 8 months ago

Good opportunities for retailers and brands with better placement match — beauty at the mall where it is top of mind. Even better, how about airports where we really have time to explore new brands and products? Technology and electronics seem a natural for this.

These are the early days as awareness builds and brand owners gain a better understanding on how to use this technology, but there’s a strong possible connection point.

Shilpa Rao
BrainTrust

I love the recognition technology at Sephora which helps to select the best makeup to suit your skin type and other options such as coverage. I see recognition technology being used both in store and out of store. It’s a great way for brand interaction and brand recognition.

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