Sears Canada using Skype video and screens to drive fashion buying

April 22, 2011 by Dave Haynes

Sears Canada, reports the Globe and Mail newspaper, has started adding 56-inch Samsung LED-backlit display screens into 10 of its stores to allow shoppers to try on fashions and model them for friends or family, using Skype video calls.

The move is part of the department store’s digital efforts to get adults younger than 45-years-old through the door.

“We’ve been focusing much more on a younger-minded customers,” Dene Rogers, chief executive officer at Sears Canada, told the retailer’s annual meeting in Toronto on Thursday. “That customer is responding. I think it bodes well for the company that we’re able to play a role as a broad-based department-store.”

Last year, reports the Globe, Sears launched its so-called “modern shops” in its stores, catering to women 45 and younger with its revitalized Attitude private label fashion line as well as trendy new labels including Kensie, Calvin Klein and Buffalo.

Sears has rolled out the modern shops in 43 of its 122 full-line stores with 35 more slated for this year. In partnership with Samsung, it has installed Skype technology outside the fitting rooms of 10 of the shops, allowing customers to view their would-be purchases on a 56-inch thin screen and model them for friends and family.

“We’ve been looking to provide new technology to assist the sales process,” Mr. Rogers said at the no-frills annual meeting, held at the company’s head office, which is located in its Toronto flagship store. The gathering is different from other companies annual meetings in a number of ways: Sears doesn’t serve coffee or food (although it offers bottled water) and it holds the meeting earlier than most — at 8 am, two hours before the store opens, requiring the few shareholders who showed up to enter from an employees entrance that is tucked away down a laneway on the west side of the store.

But once the meeting started, Mr. Rogers took his time to outline his business plan. Already, the new modern shops’ offerings and Skype online viewings appear to be resonating with young customers. In 2010, sales of brands in those shops grew 32 per cent from a year earlier, the company said.

It’s an interesting move. While far less whiz-bangy than doing an augmented reality thing with a virtual mirror that kinda sorta overlays virtual clothes on the person, this has a far lower learning curve for users, reliable technology,  and immensely lower barrier to entry cost for the store.

It relies on people having Skype accounts and the likelihood that they are either at home, laptop in hand, or armed with smartphones. As I type this there are 24,392,950 online using Skype, so there is a user base. I also see Skype finding its way into the mainstream on interview shows like Oprah, so this has crossed the fence from a nerd tool to mainstream use.

I think this reasonably clever and would be curious to learn how usage of the tool is being encouraged at the store level … hopefully on that screen. The cynic in me can almost picture the paper sign taped up beside the screen.

Hat tip to Jim Grosso from Gel Communications for pointing out story.

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