NYC impressions, inc. pix

December 9, 2011 by Dave Haynes


Back at the Bait Shop and home office after three wet, tiring days in New York. Few things are more magical than seeing the city at Christmas time amidst heaving rains, umbrella-destroying wind gusts and people who walk four-abreast on crowded sidewalks, at about a three feet an hour pace.

Oh well, Thursday was sunny, just in time for leaving.

It was a little business, a little pleasure, and a nice break from the desk.

We intended to see the Saks Fifth Avenue projection mapping thing, but it is right across the street from the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and had more people per square foot in that area than a Walmart entrance during Black Friday openings. Not a great place to linger, especially in the aforementioned rain storm.

We did go into a lot of stores and into sections where I rarely venture, namely cosmetics and fragrances. Perfume counters are instant headache generators for me. So when we did go through, we did it at pace, and what struck me is that these high-margin brands that sell little bottles and jars of stuff for big dollars are all investing in digital.

It may have been Bloomingdales or maybe it was Saks, but just about every cosmetic brand had a strong video display wall component to their areas. I saw the same thing in some of the high-end fashion areas.

You want to chase digital in retail, and not getting much traction with the stores? Think about developing a product that services these brands at a price point and scale that’s for regional malls and big downtown stores in places other than New York and Chicago. Flagship stores have different rules and budgets, it seems, so basing your pitch around something that can extend to 100 or 500 stores instead of one or two makes a lot of sense.

Along the major shopping thoroughfares like Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, a lot of stores now extensively use digital. A couple of retailers struck me for two very different approaches.

On Fifth Avenue (I think) the Hollister store (at top of post) had a full wall of some 180 pretty much seamless panels (plasma, I am guessing) that were showing what was purported to be live video from the pier at Huntington Beach in California. This is a thing that was being done inside Hollister stores and has been moved to the street in a big way. The video wall is in front of a shallow “infinity” pool of water, just to hammer home the effect.

I have no idea what was inside, as there were bouncers and a velvet rope line you had to wait in, just to gain access to the store. Crazy.

The polar opposite were the Japanese-operated Uniqlo stores we wandered into on 34th Street and on Fifth Avenue. I swear the staff would have given me a piggy-back ride if that’s how I wanted to look around and shop. Huge emphasis on welcoming, and a LOT of staff.

Photo is the 5th Ave store. Long-suffering spouse on right.

I wrote about the store on 53rd and Fifth back in October, but didn’t actually see it. I thought it was the one they went big on with digital, but the retail chain had already gone big at its store near Macy’s. In both stores, there are scores of near seamless NEC LCD screens.

I liked the integration into the walls, and the scale of the installations. By stacking four panels, and having them embedded along the main browsing areas, it creates a lot of presence but also fits in. Some of the content was branding and visuals of models wearing the various tops, bottoms and outerware, but Uniqlo also had content on some screens steadily cycling through sales promotions.

The stores are a really impressive reflection of how digital gets built into new locations and is thought-through on all levels. Worth a look if you get to New York.

I was also impressed with the integration of ad screens into the amazing main hall of Grand Central Station. The six-panel Digital OOH display clusters were installed and framed up in such a way that they looked like they belonged, and were not just stuck in (which is so often the case in retail and public spaces).

Finally, I didn’t take snappies, but was nonetheless really impressed with the main reception areas in Bloomberg’s offices on Lexington Avenue.

A lot of Wow factor with LED ribbon boards and screens, but not over the top. They also designed away from the predictable with font and color choice. As offices go, I’ve seen few nicer, and the office worker perks are wild. Major, major snack bars all over the place, but also an emphasis on wellness.

I have been to New York a buncha times but this was a rare chance to spend some time looking around instead of doing tourism stuff between meetings. What I came home with was a couple of overrising impressions:

  1. Retail and brands are really starting to apply digital signage, and if what they do in flagships works, there is a lot of growth coming
  2. Despite all the blabber about engagement and the two-way conversation between screens and consumers, I saw little evidence of interactive screens.

Now, to the email and Google Alert pile.

  1. James Fine says:

    Great post Dave. DS spotting is the undisputed highlight of every one of our NY visits. Perhaps you could organize a tour:-). We would sign up for sure.
    Thank you for the kind words about our Bloomberg project.

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