January 20, 2013 11:16 pm

The iPad effect: How to unite physical and digital worlds

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view of Georg Jensen iPad app

Virtual values: one company has doubled in size to accommodate demand

While bricks and mortar boutiques and an emphasis on human contact would seem to be the perfect antidote to too much time spent online, digital experiences in luxury shops are starting to play an increasingly important role.

Sales staff are using iPads featuring a range of digital technologies to encourage customers to play with and try on jewellery and watches virtually. One technology company has almost doubled in size in the past year to accommodate demand from watch, jewellery and luxury clients.

In 2011, half of respondents to a survey by Euro RSCG, the advertising agency now called Havas Worldwide, agreed with the statement: “I worry that digital communications are weakening human-to-human bonds”.

Yet, last year Burberry opened a 44,000 sq ft store on London’s Regent Street, home to 100 digital screens and 160 iPad terminals streaming interactive content.

All sales staff are equipped with iPads to assist shoppers, while multi-sensory experiences include digital rainstorms and lightning. This is a shop and live events space that Burberry claims is “bringing Burberry.com to life, seamlessly blurring physical and digital worlds”.

In the past three years, the watch and jewellery industry has witnessed online applications for Tissot, Tag Heuer and Boucheron, iPad apps for Georg Jensen, 3D films for Forevermark – the diamond brand created by De Beers – and a holographic fashion show for Dunhill, all of which have been created by Holition, the reality technology specialists.

US department store Neiman Marcus has an app informing customers if their favourite sales assistants are on duty, while staff use it to gain access to shoppers’ buying history. Customers who shop with the same member of staff three times were found to spend almost 10 times more than those who go to an assistant at random.

The recently published Future Laboratory report on the luxury sector, commissioned by Grosvenor Estates, the London property company, argues that technology will help forge deeper connections between consumers and products.

“There is so much you can do to deepen communication about a product through technology, both on the educational side – perhaps by projecting more information about the item – and on the emotional and theatrical side,” says Jonathan Chippindale, Holition’s chief executive.

Evidence that Holition technology is making luxury shopping more human and enticing comes in the form of customer response.

When Holition worked with Swatch Group watch brand Tissot to enable consumers to try on a virtual watch from the window of Selfridges, sales in the London department store’s Tissot boutique soared 83 per cent. The company’s app for Boucheron saw a 50 per cent rise in online traffic and continues to see figures increase by 10 per cent a year.

“When Holition started, we were a team of three with a belief that this type of technology would be useful to brands seeking to connect with consumers,” says Mr Chippindale.

“We’d have conversation with luxury brands still struggling with the concept of ecommerce, let alone our innovative tools. Now we are a team of 17, made up of digital strategists, creative producers, developers, 3D designers and 2D artists, all looking at how to innovate.”

Creative use of technology is increasingly moving into shops, allowing customers to virtually try on products that are not available and, as in the case of Georg Jensen, choosing their own style of jewellery.

Last November, Georg Jensen launched Fusion Builder, the world’s first 3D reality jewellery app. Devised by Holition, it allows customers to create their own Fusion ring using an iPad, by simply waving their hand to choose the metal, colour, number and size of diamonds.

Third-generation jewellers Avakian have iPads in all their stores so that clients can see all the pieces on offer, even if they are in other locations.

Early trials of iPad-assisted ordering within shops have seen sales increase by between 10 to 30 per cent, according to Laura Wynch, a consultant at the eNova Partnership.

The iPad is turning out to be the source of additional profit, an enhanced relationship between customers and sales staff, and greater customer choice.

Ms Wynch says: “iPad assisted in-store ordering has resurrected the customer/adviser relationship.

“This is important for the luxury sector where expectations of customer service are high. Advisers can use iPads to promote a brand while also selling additional, sometimes higher value, products at the same time – for example, by offering extended ranges which might be available on the retailer’s website, but not in the shop.”

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