LensCrafters Uses Social Sharing to Jazz Up In-Store Experience

lenscrafters2LensCrafters is addressing the challenges of buying glasses with digital technology. For people with prescription glasses, it can be hard to choose which frames suit them, and often they can’t properly see the frames they are trying on because – well, they need glasses.

The chain, which sells prescription eye and sun glasses at 850 locations worldwide, in June quietly began trialing a custom-built mirror installation at six locations in Tampa, Florida that lets customers see digital photos of themselves with different frames. Activated via sensors when a customer approaches, the “magic mirror” as the prototype is informally called, doubles as a digital camera that takes pictures of the customer from three different angles.

Facial recognition software automatically decides which three out of nine cameras to use based on a customer’s height, and multi-stage lighting creates a flattering frame for the face. Via touchscreen, the customers can view the different looks and even solicit advice from family and friends by sharing them via email, Facebook, or Twitter.

“The front of LensCrafters had a kind of fashion feel, but the back was like a doctor’s office with scary equipment,” said Barry Fiske, executive creative director with SapientNitro, the digital agency that is working with LensCrafters to transform the shopping experience at its stores. The new mirror installation, Fiske said, is “making that part of the store feel more like a fashion experience too.”

Although they expected the procedure to be a kind of private experience, often the installations gather small crowds who watch the proceedings with interest. Starting next month, LensCrafters will roll out more of the installations at 18 locations and further in 2013. It will also continue to refine the idea, Fiske said, such as by using the mirror to help the customer make sure the frames they choose fit properly.

SapientNitro has made a name for itself in going beyond the traditional branding roles of an advertising agency to getting involved in unconventional areas such as product design. Last month, for example, it announced it has paired with Chicago-based Iota Partners, a company that studies how consumers use products in real life, to gather info on how the virtual and the real worlds interconnect.

But if developing a digital mirror prototype on behalf of a client seems unusual, SapientNitro is convinced that more agencies will have to tread such ground to help their retail clients keep up with challenges posed by e-commerce and tap into the potential for improving the brand experience online. “This is the future,” said Fiske.

That thought was echoed by Gaston Legorburu, SapientNitro’s worldwide chief creative officer, who spoke to ClickZ last week during Advertising Week in New York City. “The physical environment is ripe for digital transformation. This isn’t just about adding cool gadgets, it’s about retailers re-envisioning what their business can be,” he said.

Most Retailers Weak on Digital In-Store Integration

Yet according to a report the agency is releasing today called Insights 2013, retailers have a long way to go to successfully build links between their digital and physical stores. Over a period of four months this year, SapientNitro conducted a study of what it calls Connected Retail at 71 specialty retailers in flagship locations, mainly in New York City. Its key findings: digital in-store displays, when they existed at all, are too often poorly executed.

Specifically, SapientNitro judged the store experience by visibility, content, functionality and brand translation, as well as assessing social sharing integration, the mobile experience in-store and cross channel inventory and fulfillment. The retailers were scored in each category from 0 (not present) to 5 (best), and the scores were weighted to create a composite index and multiplied by 15 to achieve an overall score from 0 to 75.

Out of the 71 analyzed, only two retailers, Sephora and Bloomingdales, were considered good (50 to 59 points overall); Macy’s, Crate and Barrel, American Eagle Outfitters, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue achieved average scores (40 to 49 points) and the remainder were deemed weak (29 and below).

Although a few retailers such as Bloomingdales featured beautiful in-store, in-wall displays, very few embraced interactive elements that would help users with their shopping experience, the report said. “Screens are great, but our expectation is that in-store digital must move beyond glorified wall hangings and deliver content and functionality that supports users in the shopping process.” More often than not, the researchers found broken in-store devices, or poor placement of the digital display, hidden beneath a stair or a clothes rack.

There were some isolated bright spots. Beauty emporium Sephora, for example, was praised for its Scentsa touchscreen kiosk, which let visitors explore different scents as well as their prices. When a shopper found something of interest she could email or scan the QR code to get more information about the product on her phone.

Beauty Studio iPads positioned along mirrors at makeover stations also let users check how-to tips online. Coach, Crate & Barrel and Nordstrom were also noted for cross channel flexibility, giving shoppers the option to purchase an item online and then pick it up at the store. J.C. Penney also got kudos for its Levi’s Denim bar, where iPad-equipped sales personnel were ready to give sales information.

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