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The Big Picture

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Lord & Taylor’s flagship Manhattan store is a place where image and tradition are juxtaposed with the high-tech and cutting edge, where digital signage finds a comfortable home between the chandeliers and travertine floors. Massive renovations — or “restoration,” as Dominick Ponti, Lord & Taylor’s senior vice president of design, construction and facilities, likes to call it — have transformed the store into a technological playground.

“Monday morning quarterbacking, this was probably the smartest deal we ever made,” Ponti says. “At the time we were doing it, when the world was falling apart with the economy, we were questioning ourselves.”

Ponti fought to keep the distinctly Lord & Taylor elements – like those travertine floors that date back to the store’s opening in 1914 and the playing of the national anthem over the loudspeakers just before the doors open each day — while pushing the technology team to deliver a customer-centric experience.

He’s not done yet — nor is Lord & Taylor, which is set to open a contemporary store in New York’s Westchester County, another more traditional store in Salem, N.H., and an outlet in Miami, marking the first new stores in a decade. That will bring the company to 48 full-line stores and three outlets.

Technology as aesthetic
Digital signage conveys streaming video and branding messages from vendors throughout the restored Manhattan store, an attempt to better engage the customer while controlling the store environment.

“Dominick is a big-picture guy,” says Marcy Patzer, vice president of sales and marketing for Pro-Motion Technology Group, the Wixom, Mich.-based company that created Lord & Taylor’s digital signage and audio solution. After plenty of brainstorming sessions, the decision was made to use the Scala platform, which has feature sets and integration capabilities they would need in the future.

“Our software is the stage on which our partners and customers can perform magical things, and not just with digital signage,” says Tom Nix, vice president, Americas & Oceania of Exton, Pa.-based Scala. “It has the ability to react to information from data within the environment, based on everything from the weather to RFID tags or motion sensors.”

That can mean the ability to promote certain products when the temperature drops, or to shorten or lengthen the message based on how many people are in the store at a given time.

“They did not use technology for technology’s sake,” Patzer says. “It’s not glaring, in-your-face technology to the customer. It’s meant to be more of an environmental aesthetic, thereby enhancing the consumers’ experience.”

While Lord & Taylor hasn’t fully activated all of the bells and whistles of the new system, it has seen a significant lift in two key areas: fragrances and men’s suits. Privately-held Lord & Taylor doesn’t disclose sales figures, but Ponti says the fragrance changes paid for themselves within a year, and men’s suit sales saw increases in the high double digits.

Branding the brand
Department stores can have a mixed branding message — vendors in the store are promoting their products while the store itself has its own lines to support.

“If you are a retailer with multiple brands under one roof, the brands are making a push and a drive to utilize technology and video, to ensure their messages are being delivered consistently every time,” Patzer says. “If you’re a guest in someone’s home, how can you ensure that your message is being delivered?

“My question to retailers is, ‘Do you want to allow your brands within your store to affect your store design, or take an approach such as Lord & Taylor, which [provides] the format and allows the brand to provide the content?’

“We’re at an interesting point: It’s either going to be brands leading the charge or the retailer.”
Lord & Taylor wanted to ensure that vendor brands fit well into the new aesthetic. The monitors are built into fixtures; if the technology fails momentarily, it just looks like a black frame. The new format also allows vendor brands to update their messaging fairly seamlessly. When a Chanel representative noticed that Lord & Taylor was displaying an outdated promotion, new material was delivered to Pro-Motion and the updated ad was on display seconds after arrival.

Lord & Taylor created a network outside of its own corporate system to handle the digital signage’s technical load. “Information technology people never want to share their networks when you’re streaming videos,” Ponti says. “It gives us freedom that we ourselves didn’t understand how valuable it [would be].”

Where the future leads
Ponti has big plans for digital signage at Lord & Taylor, envisioning a day in the not-too-distant future when a digital screen may be placed behind a dressing room mirror, allowing a shopper to see how another blouse — one she didn’t bring into the dressing room — might work with the pants she’s trying on. He hopes to roll out some of those ideas in the Ridge Hill/Westchester store, but realizes the technology may not be quite ready.

“Fitting rooms should be alive,” Ponti says. “That is where the sale is made. We see videos and promotional aspects there … [the shopper] should be able to buy in the fitting room.”

That’s only the beginning, says Nix. “The overall goal is to create the shopper experience to be one where the technology that’s being used is going to enhance – not just stopping at signage.
“It’s just part of the communication and sensory mix that you have in a store,” he continues. “Our platform helps deliver on all the sensory opportunities to alter the shopping experience, everything from sight to sound to smell.”

All this comes at a time when the technology’s reliability is improving – and its price is dropping. “TVs are smarter,” Ponti says. “You can have a memory card and when you turn the TV on, it looks to see where there is a source. … You can now have backups to the system. The TVs that we have in the fragrance [department] — if the computer system was to go down, a memory card would automatically display a Lord & Taylor sign. The odds of them failing are so minimal.”

Not so minimal is the potential return on investment, Nix says. “You have a large group that is wary: ‘If I put this in, will I get the return that I’m looking for?’” he says. “They started that concern at a time when the capital expenditure was much more. If they revisit it now, when they do the math and compare the ROI on printed signs and factor in the implications of not being consistent there, then we’ve hit a sweet spot. Adoption is really starting to ramp up.”