2013-03-08

The Most Ambitious In-Store Retail iPad Integration We've Ever Seen

Kate Spade decided to replace their stores' paper signage with iPads. But breaking down the problem for software developers led them to a daisy-chain of other problems, pushing the roadmap into unchartered territory for a retail store. “It’s about using technology to drive a certain behavior,” says the developer.



IPads are popping up like mushrooms in retail stores, where they’re usually about as useful. The place I get my haircut has one sitting next to the register, always displaying their Facebook page, which by now must be seared into the screen because no one ever touches it.

But the iPads that Kate Spade is using in the company’s new micro-store in Japan are not like that. They’re using the iPad to take something very simple--the paper sign which displays the price for, say, a line of bags--and turn it into a bottomless pool of product information, video and, social integration capable of sucking in shoppers. Not just that, but these iPads will be able to perform any operation a computer might do in a boutique: point of sale, product walk-throughs, loyalty tracking, employee training, shopping analytics--even inventory and supply chain management. Remember, these things are replacing paper signs.

The project went to Control Group, which won the "Best in Community Impact" Award in the City of New York's "reinvent the payphone" contest. At their whitewashed, curvaceous lab space in the Woolworth Building, the company’s developers readied to build an MVP that would be ready for the opening of the 1,000-square-foot store in Tokyo in the first quarter of 2013. They had eight weeks. Lots of fancy features on the roadmap, but where to start?

Start with the biggest problem

When you think about it, a tiny store has two big problems and one enormous one. First, it can’t have a permanent point of sale--they take up too much space. Everything needs to be modular. Secondly, they can’t hold much stock, so they require a tightly integrated supply chain. But most importantly--and this is the enormous problem--why even go to a physical store anymore?

It became clear the iPads’ top priority was to make the store less about selling: “Every day isn’t black Friday,” said Kate Spade’s Director of Global Retail Operations Ann Marie Clendenin told Co.Labs. Instead, Kate Spade wanted to encourage what retail people call dwell-time, and for that, they would need to give shoppers stuff to entertain them.

What Control Group built is a socially engineered software experience that delivers lots of high-quality content--images, GIFs, videos, walk-throughs, social network product sharing, product specs--in order to give people a reason to come in and stick around. “It’s about using technology to drive a certain behavior,” said the partner who owned the project for Control Group, Colin O’Donnell.

What it means for a new Kate Spade brand

Next on the roadmap for the iPads will be delivering training materials to employees, then inventory and supply chain features. Soon after, a loyalty system and analytics about the content, which should predict what they need to stock, easing the strain on the company’s supply chain. A perk: no more printing, shipping, and trashing thousands of pounds of paper signage each month.

Co.Labs spoke to O’Donnell, the partner at Control Group, and Kyle Andrew, Kate Spade’s SVP and brand director of the new new brand the company is launching at the Tokyo store, Kate Spade Saturday, about how this adventurous little iPad system is changing retail.

Who is the Kate Spade Saturday customer and what kind of technology is she going expect in a retail store in the next few years?


O'Donnell: The Kate Spade Saturday audience is younger than the Kate Spade one, but still savvy and sophisticated. They all have smartphones and are comfortable with technology. Shopping is part of how they socialize--they want to meet friends and try clothes on together in-store. For them retail is a discovery space. For this audience, “freshness” is important if they are to stay hip and socially competitive. Andrew: The Kate Spade Saturday girl spends her life online, so she wants the bricks and mortar experience to be as easy and seamless as her online experience. And she wants to be able to share her shopping experiences with her friends no matter where she is. With the launch of the Tokyo store, we are trying to create a store environment that is just as innovative and connected as our website will be.


Launching with a beta product doesn’t exactly seem like familiar territory for a fashion company, does it?


O'Donnell: Kate Spade Saturday is a nimble brand with a startup mentality. The love affair for us on this project is that Kate Spade wanted to avoid any boondoggle and launch with something they could grow and build on. Our brief was to ensure Kate Spade Saturday delivered the best possible customer experience through integrated technology that was beautiful, yet invisible. The goal was to use the tools from the startup economy and apply it to enterprise so as to increase repeat visits, dwell time, and social sharing. Andrew: Our original brief and actual implementation was not a tremendous delta. We communicated the product and store design theories, with the expectation of utilizing an iPad to connect with our audience, conveying the imagery and merchandise cadence. We worked in a “time box” scenario to ensure the adherence to a tight eight-week turnaround.


Out of all the features already implemented, what’s the primary task?


Andrew: The iPad Management System replaces the traditional paper signage. Its most straightforward use will be to tell the basic facts about each product--for example, the name and price. If the customer wants to delve deeper, the iPads will be able to tell stories about how the product was made, what the design inspiration, and how you can use it or wear it. Because it is digital, it will allow us to update information--globally--very seamlessly. For example, if our store in Japan needs more detailed product information on a specific item, that can be easily uploaded very quickly.


What's under the hood of the bespoke CMS?

O'Donnell: The custom Kate Spade Saturday iPad Management System was built on Java and deployed in AWS Elastic Beanstalk Japan Region. The hierarchical CMS enables brand consistency across locations but allows store managers to upload custom content based on individual store layout. The content consists of feature stories, videos, and text slides, which can be ordered and published on-the-fly. The CMS also includes a drag-and-drop interface for creating and ordering the stories. Additionally, the CMS lets Saturday add and manage stores, and on-board new iPads for placement. Since it’s built on AWS using S3 storage, the CMS is infinitely scalable. Metrics of touches and navigation on individual iPads are managed via Google Analytics.

The iPad-based Kate Spade Saturday “assisted shopping experience” will roll out in U.S. stores next year.