Melissa Gonzalez: Innovative Use of Digital Signage in Retail
Melissa Gonzalez is the founder of The Lion’esque Group, an award-winning firm of retail strategists and pop-up architects, and the Chief Pop-Up Retail Architect for Loudoun, Virginia’s first smart city. We had the pleasure of talking to her about integrating digital signage with retail spaces, how that can increase brands’ success and the future of retail. Here she shares her expert knowledge with us.
What is the most interesting or unusual pop-up you’ve done in the last year using digital signage?
Typically, we use digital signage in pop-ups for the ‘endless aisle experience’, which allows customers to see what else is available in stock. Sometimes we also use signage to go further into product details, especially if there's a customization aspect.
But, I would say one of the more interesting pop-ups we did was for a fitness band called Mira. We used digital signage in the pop-up store to really let people experience the full functionality of the Mira app, so that they can understand how doing physical activities would impact the data they saw inside the app.
We also had signage on the store window so you could touch and play around with the different colors and features of the band. This meant you could add your own little customization on the spot from the front window of the store, which also allowed anybody passing by to see it in action.
Have you been using AR and digital signage together?
Yes, we did a pop-up with the nail polish brand, Sally Hansen. They had launched their ManiMatch augmented reality app and so we did a pop-up store simultaneously to promote it.
The way it worked is you came in to the store, scanned the pigmentation color of your skin and then your nails would be virtually painted the color that the app thought would look best based on the exact color of your skin. And, if you liked that color, a vending machine would disperse it. If you didn't agree with the color you could pick another one and then have it dispersed.
It was really cool because we were able to collect a lot of data on how accurate the app was in recommending colors that women wanted and then seeing when they changed their mind. We also worked in the whole lighting scheme of the store to support it, so that whatever color was the most popular that hour became the color of the store. It was a really fun, interactive pop-up store and there was obviously a high conversion of people who scanned, got a color and a free manicure.
If you’re using data from installations, how are you finding this data helpful to track ROI and engagement of digital signage?
I think because digital signage is so inherently engaging, it's great to be able to track what the frequency of that engagement is by looking at dwell time. You can then compare that to another point along the customer journey within the store, like the traffic sensor you have at the door, how many people are stopping to engage with the signage or how often are they doing it, and then compare that to your point of sale conversion data to see what kind of picture you can paint together of how digital signage is impacting your business.
You can then do a lot with this data – you could use it for the endless aisle experience to find out what products are converting or what product details customers are looking at the most. Because there are certain products that people are always looking for more information about, this can give you insight as to where you want to train your staff a little more. Or, you might discover that there are certain SKU's that are continuously being searched for through digital signage so you might ensure that you have that product physically in store as well as online.
What developments or innovations are you most excited for that are either just entering the market or might be entering it in the next year or so?
I think that AR still has a long way to go and that it creates a huge opportunity for retailers, particularly in the makeup and apparel industries. Using the ManiMatch pop up as an example, how many times do you want to try a different polish for free? And now you’re able to do that virtually in seconds, which really opens up the number of colors you're willing to experiment with.
I'm also excited about where Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) integration can go and how that can be tracked, especially when a consumer clicks to learn more about a product or get recommendations on related products for example. I think there’s a lot of creative potential in the integration of RFID and digital signage.
How do you see the future of retail developing?
Retail is going to continue to evolve because technology, both in a consumer and enterprise way, is continuing to evolve.
Technology gives consumers high expectations in the physical world because they're better educated and have access to more options at their fingertips all the time. So, when they come into a store they want to be surprised and delighted and have those ‘aha moments’. They want an elevated experience, with highly knowledgeable sales staff because there's a lot they can find out about products on their own.
Even though pop-up stores are a lot more mainstream than they used to be, people still have a different mindset when they come into a pop-up than when they come into a store, because they're like, ‘Oh, there's going to be something unique,’ and they walk in the door with the expectation of, ‘What am I going to discover today?’
Therefore, brands really have to think about how they're going to deliver that. I always advise that brands step back and say, ‘What is it that we cannot deliver online that we can bring into physical?’ And, then when using digital signage or other technology integration, brands really need to be thoughtful of how that is integrating with the online and offline world. It has to be purposeful. Customers don't want gimmicks, they want something that has a purpose.
You are the chief pop-up retail architect in Virginia, what does that entail?
The city is still in development, but my role is really helping the team to think about how are we going to integrate retail in a way that really makes sense for the city. Because it's a smart city, it's an environment that's constantly learning from itself and always looking to improve residents’ quality of life in a sustainable and efficient way, considering everything from residential to commercial, office and retail space.
I’m working on the retail side and thinking through the right technology to integrate with to create a high-tech environment that’s full of purpose. For example, if it aids residents, who knows, why can’t we bring in a futuristic approach to dry cleaning!
Tell us about Lion’esque and the work that you do there
I started the Lion’esque group in 2009 as an experiment. However, it quickly proved itself on both sides of the equation, where customers were really loving it and brands were really interested. It evolved into a revolving storefront. That one store from 2009 still exists and we now have three revolving storefronts in midtown Manhattan, with contracts lined up for the next year.
That's how it started, but over time our role as Lion’esque has evolved into a strategic offering because a lot of our customers have a digital presence but they haven’t mastered brick and mortar yet.
It's been a fun journey of helping brands best position themselves to create an experience that really speaks to their customers. Whether it’s helping them work out what they can bring to a physical space, that they can’t online. Or, helping brands to integrate technology so that they're constantly learning about their customers and then contextualizing that data so that they can be as successful as possible – whether that means optimizing their store layout, re-thinking what SKU's to offer or changing up their marketing and retargeting strategies. Sometimes pop-ups are meant to be a transactional hub, but sometimes they really should just be about the experience, building mind-share with customers and then giving them an opportunity to convert online. So Lion’esque is really about helping brands to think this all through.
More recently, we've developed a lot more relationships on the real estate side of the equation because they're at a point where they can't ignore that physical space is changing. And, they can't stick to their traditional methods of how they offer space. So, we've been brought in to partner with a number of those companies, one of which is General Growth Properties (GGP), which is one of the largest mall operators here in the US. They recognize it's not just about signing a lease with a brand and giving them the keys but working out how they will be successful in the physical space. It’s exciting to see all sorts of stores investing in re-imagining the physical.