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DVF Marketing Guru on Mixed Reality’s Place in Experiential Retail

Coming off the success of its first pop-up, which took place in San Francisco last fall and drove a threefold increase in spend, the Diane von Furstenberg (DVF) brand executed another pop-up series around International Women’s Day (IWD). Hosted in its Meatpacking New York City headquarters, the pop-up series combined powerhouse speakers with both high- and low tech experiences.

DVF expected as many as 400 people to pack into stores for the IWD pop-ups, which ran from March 7-11 this month and featured CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin. To create a highly personalized and tech-forward experience, DVF turned to Microsoft, which created bespoke touchscreens attendees could interact with to customize designs for either a T-shirt, beanie or tote bag emblazoned with the hashtag #incharge, in keeping with the women’s empowerment theme, senior director of global relational marketing Michael Crooks said during a live recording of the Fashion Is Your Business podcast. On-site artisans executed the embroidery and screenprinting requests, using “low-tech” machinery strategically located near store windows to attract the eye of passers-by.

In addition to customizable photo and video booths, DVF also offered a mixed-reality (MR) experience—which merges the real and the virtual worlds to create a new form of reality—using Samsung MR headsets. The goal, Crooks explained, was to encourage pop-up participants to don the headsets, get a “virtual” front-row experience with the brand’s spring/summer ’18 runway presentation and then remove the headset and see the actual clothing all around them. “A little ‘see now, buy now’ situation,” Crooks said of the fresh-from-the-catwalk collection, most of which either wasn’t produced or delivered (en masse) to stores yet.

Some customers were so enthralled by what they saw in the mixed-reality experience they asked a sales associate to pull a style of particular interest, pausing the video in order to duck into a fitting room. However, because the collection in the experience was so new and not in production quite yet, DVF ended up capturing customers’ contact info to follow up when items arrived in store, Crooks noted, further driving engagement and store traffic in a “trickle-down effect.”

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DVF’s use of technology created an immersive experience that succeeded in engaging customers but Crooks cautioned against using “tech for tech’s sake,” even as retailers of all stripes invest in more digital innovations in store.

“Is tech the savior? If it was, then all stores would be gone,” Crooks said. When tech projects fail, it’s not necessarily the fault of digital itself; it’s often because the project wasn’t fully and cohesively integrated into the company, he added. “It’s not binary; it’s not ‘tech or no tech,’ or ‘stores or no stores,’” Crooks said.

How retailers introduce new innovations and experiences into brick-and-mortar is what can make the difference between a winning initiative and money down the drain.

In fact, Crooks pointed to his experience helping to create a clienteling app in her previous role as head of customer insights and marketing campaigns for Gucci. His team developed the app based on customer behavior of seeing something they liked in a print ad and would often bring into the store a cut-out of that product photo. The Milan-based innovation team wanted to digitize that product, building an app that leveraged facial recognition to recall individual customers, and enabled store staff to scan the paper advertisement and find the product in inventory.

That’s all good and well—but the brand didn’t quite think through the optics of how the clienteling app would be used, Crooks said. Customers would walk into a Gucci store and see what looked like associates “playing on their phones,” when in reality they were assisting customers, Crooks explained.

“It all comes down the training,” he concluded.