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The reinvention of the retail store window

By Retail Technology | Sunday October 29 2023 | UPDATED 03.11.23

Technology can improve all areas of retail but how can it increase engagement in today’s retail store windows. Joseph Smyth, Owner and Managing Director of AV hire company VAST explains all

Store windows have always been a key point of sale for retail brands but pre-Covid, windows were often reserved for product positioning. Post-Covid, the way shoppers engage on the high-street before they even enter a store has changed and this has opened the door for more outside touchpoint experiences for retail brands to harness. Touchpoints which are essential, as tough economic conditions and competition from tax-free shopping hubs such as Paris and Milan, compete with the UK’s ability to be a well-frequented international shopping destination.

During Covid time spent on digital devices, including online shopping, soared. Many brands shifted their strategy as a result, assuming that the rise in digital activity (including ecommerce) would continue. However the latest research on online activity indicates a continual decline in the amount of time the world is spending online since levels seen during 2020. In fact, certain cohorts, for example female internet users aged 16 to 24, are reducing their time spent online year-on-year by 10%.

With less time being spent online, this poses an opportunity for retail brands to capture the engagement of those seeking in-person experiences. Footfall across the UK’s retail hubs is steadily increasing. With London in particular, being bolstered by continuous development including the 2022 launch of the Elizabeth Line, close to both Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road. Developments which help get shoppers to destinations more quickly.

Already this year we have seen an increase in the number of in-store and window campaigns being designed by both luxury and high street retail brands. Not only are brands creating new concepts but they’re embracing engagement opportunities like never before.

In part, some of the ideas for technology we’re supporting clients are as a direct result of covid. Such a huge world event is bound to change behaviour and some of the ideas below may not have even been considered if it weren’t for the expectation that has been set by the new normal:

Transformation to digital

During Christmas 2022, global high street giant Next made use of digital screens for their store windows, having previously only ever featured physical products. Across 23 UK Next stores simultaneously, a series of high-resolution, high-brightness LED videowalls were deployed. Designed in distinctive column layouts, the screens played Next’s “Merry Everything” Christmas content and a mix of other promotional material featuring influencer partnerships with the likes of Kendall Jenner.

Despite being a longstanding high street retailer, this was the first time Next had used AV as part of their window campaigns. I foresee that other brands will follow in their footsteps, realising that digital attracts attention as well as a more practical element: digital content can be controlled remotely, and from a distance. This gives head offices and central teams more control over what promotions are served, and when. Unlike physical product displays which rely on in-house or visiting merchandising teams to deploy.

LED as a form of screen technology has also become far more accessible and easier to install, even within the tight confines of a smaller store window. Quiet, lightweight and fully customisable to a certain length or height with a high brightness resolution that can be seen even in daylight hours, it really is a “one size fits many” digital solution.

QR codes as standard

Pre pandemic, QR codes were not standard practice. Place one in front of a regular person and it’s likely that half wouldn’t know what a QR code was, or how it worked. Thanks to QR codes being used for everything from pub menus, to checking in for a reservation, consumers today have no hesitation in taking out their phone and scanning a QR code to gain additional information or to take action.

For retailers, this creates an opportunity to leverage engagement, even at times when the store is closed. By placing QR codes in windows, as Meta did below in a recent pop-up store concept, brands can get a feel for footfall throughout the day and number of interactions by day of week and time of day.

Consumers on the other hand, get an engaging experience that they can activate and enjoy simply by opening the camera on their phone. Scanning a QR code can trigger a change in screen content, lighting state or create an event. All of which, poses an interesting shopping experience and a far-reaching impact of a store window, that does more than just look good.

Gesture technology

Our hesitancy to “touch” surfaces during covid also led to more creative solutions for interactivity. One example is gesture technology, allowing a consumer to control a screen, play a game or “swipe” through products using motion technology that picks up gestures (usually of the arms) rather than physical interactions.

This type of interactive technology creates a longer “time per engagement” than simply browsing products alone. It can also be harnessed along with technology such as a large screen, or high-resolution LED wall, allowing the event and interaction to be noticeable from a distance, and to a wider crowd.

Outdoor experiences

Despite footfall increasing since the start of 2023, the UK’s high streets are still seeing below pre-pandemic levels. Yet this hasn’t stopped brands, particularly those in luxury retail, from continuing to invest in consistently good retail window displays.

Perhaps it is the ghost of brands such as Topshop, Tissot and Adidas that disappeared from flagship retail locations such as London’s Oxford Circus and Bond Street, serving as a reminder that attracting shopper attention is key. Luxury and high street retailers have risen to the challenge.

As well as creating impactful product displays, brands are harnessing technology to deliver changing content that can be controlled and monitored from a distance, and even updated to react to the latest shopping trends or behaviours from that day. In much the same way that a website is an ever-changing digital experience displaying the latest in what’s available and popular.

LED walls in a high-resolution pixel pitch of 2.5mm, or even 1.9mm, serve content and are able to be synchronised across multiple shop windows spanning the length of streets. An example is the recent display led by Harrods’ beauty hall where 14 windows were filled with screens showing digital product displays, showcasing more than 20 brands at once. Not only providing ROI for the many beauty brands stocked within, but also showing to visitors the wealth that awaits them should they step inside.

This type of content serves something new almost every time a shopper walks by. With attention spans limited and the “social media effect” creating consumers who expect the new and novel, evergreen window displays help to engage and re-engage shoppers by providing something different at every visit.

In short, retail store windows have always been well utilised. However, the willingness to embrace new forms of technology that play on the accepted behaviours of the post-pandemic world, create a shopping experience that pairs digital and physical as one. Outdoor-facing technology creates a visitor experience that takes place whether or not the visitor ever enters the store - and allows brands to track what occurs, and when. Something that any smart retail brand should be considering. Retail spaces are expensive and therefore not for the faint hearted, so why not make the most of every opportunity surrounding them?

I look forward to seeing even more creative concepts and new forms of technology utilised in retail store windows as the year continues.


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