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Smart Mannequins Turn Visual Displays into Points of Sale

The latest thing in the world of retail technology is the digital mannequin: a dummy that can transmit details about the clothing on display to shoppers via smartphone.

UK-based technology and design company Iconeme launched the innovation, called VMBeacon, Wednesday and said retailers will now be able to communicate with customers as they peruse items on display in shop windows and in the store. This is the first time beacon technology has been made specifically for visual merchandising, according to Iconeme.

Here’s how it works: a VMBeacon device gets installed into each mannequin, or any visual merchandising display, and transmits pre-programmed info from the retailer using a secure web portal. Customers can download an app, enable it, and once they are within 100 meters of the beacon, they’ll get an automatic message on their smart device about the content they can access.

The content could include details about the clothing and accessories displayed, price information, links to purchase the products directly from the retailer’s website, or even tell shoppers where to locate the item in the store. The beacon can also provide more detailed images and product descriptions, and users can save looks for later, engage in social sharing to get feedback from peers, and access other offers and rewards.

And the beacon couldn’t be better for the omnichannel, constant access experience that consumers increasingly demand from brands, because the technology operates 24 hours a day. This means that even when a store is closed, its window display, as Iconeme puts it, “becomes a constant interactive selling point.”

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Iconeme co-founder Jonathan Berlin said, citing a recent Google report, that 84 percent of smartphone shoppers use their devices to help them browse while in a store:

“The technology we have developed aims to tap into this trend and offers real value to both retailers and consumers. The Internet of Things and beacon technology has been gaining momentum over the last few years but we are yet to see its practical and widespread use in retail outlets. Installing this technology in mannequins ensures it occupies a prime location and an ideal focus-point for shoppers, whether they are in the store itself or just passing by the window,” Berlin said.

For today’s shopper, blending brick-and-mortar with e-commerce has become essential to the store experience and, ultimately, to customer loyalty and retention.

As Doug Stephens, retail futurist and founder of the Retail Prophet consultancy put it, retailers have to start measuring the store as a piece of media; it is no longer just a product distribution channel.

“We have to look at it more as though the store is a big living commercial for the brand,” Stephens said, and these transformative, interactive in-store experiences that make the consumer’s life better will be what makes or breaks a retailer in the future.

Those retailers using Iconeme’s digital mannequins will have full control over what information is made available via the VMBeacon and the resulting analytical reports from the technology’s use will offer customer insight and potentially lead to increased sales. Reports could include shopper demographics like age, gender, location, which items were viewed and whether a purchase was made online.

The retailer is in complete control and can choose what information is made available, and also has access to analytic reports to gain customer insight and help increase sales. Reporting can include shopper details, such as age and gender, their location, what outfit was viewed and whether a purchase was made online. Shoppers have the ability to choose which of their details are made available, via their own privacy settings.

Beyond Iconeme, Berlin and partner Adrian Coe, also work for Universal Display, a London-based manufacturer of mannequins and retail display products for top high street retailers including BHS, Monsoon, Harvey Nichols and Arcadia Group, owner of Top Shop. Some of Universal’s partnering retailers are reportedly interested in incorporating the VMBeacon technology.

The Iconeme app will be available to download in the near future and customers will either be able to use the Iconeme app itself or retailers can integrate the technology into their own apps.

Click here to see how the VMBeacon works.