Window Marketing has evolved over the years: from posters and pictures to touch screen technology and social check-ins. Jason Cross, from the MSS Practice in North America asks the question – where to next? And why companies must renew their focus on the customer experience to drive sales and compete in the ever changing digital world.

The days where a simple bartering system dominated trade and drove the local economies are long gone. Specialization of goods and services exposed only the tip of the “marketplace iceberg” as local villagers traded amongst one another in decentralized locations (often, their own homes) for core resources. Generations later, the human species adopted a currency system to exchange assets. Fast forward to the late 20th century and the concepts of marketing was revolutionised, and marketers began to fixate on the impact of the “First Impression” to get customers in the door, as companies decorate the appearance of their shops (outside looking in) to act as competitive differentiator.

Shop owners first started posting pictures and designs to lure potential customers into the store. Shortly after, companies began to showcase physical products in windows, placing the most fashion-worthy and trendy items in front of potential customers. Managers then had an epiphany: how they marketed the products in their window had a direct effect on the decision making process for customers on whether they would enter a store for the first time. Not so coincidental, the advent of mannequins took a profound effect on the retail marketing industry during the 1950’s and 1960’s. What was once a 2-dimensional marketing dynamic quickly became a 3-dimensional space with boundless limits on marketing creativity.

Macys and Saks Fifth Avenue are two companies that truly capitalized on this opportunity in their annual Christmas Windows in New York City. Each and every year, these companies pour hundreds of thousands of dollars to design thoughtful, artistic, and engaging displays  they have instigated thousands of people to travel to New York simply to walk by the presentations. These results have a very Positive Return on Investment (ROI), and not only does this  force a smile on the CMO’s face, but also encourages the longevity of the marketing initiative.

Newsboy Selling Herald Tribune Announcing Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

**Miracle on 34th Street – Macy’s 2009 Holidays Window**

Winter Street Scene from

**Winter Street Scene; Saks Fifth Avenue 2007 Holiday Window Display**

But as the world transitions to a more digital era, what can we as customers expect? More importantly, what should businesses be planning for?

While this question is up for discussion, I propose a few ideas on how companies can incorporate these digital technologies and lessons learned to further their sales revenues.

–          Augmented Reality (AR), written about in a previous blog offers a fantastic opportunity to engage a potential customer with innovation at the shop window. I believe companies need to create as many “Customer Touch Points” as to connect with customers’ senses as quickly as possible. This is achieved through the use of bright colors, lights, sounds, and most recently – the sense of touch.

Companies such as Coca-Cola are using AR as an interactive digital platform in its Coca-Cola Machines, Nike using augmented reality in a mobile campaign to promote the launch of their T90 soccer shoe, and Polo Ralph Lauren successfully launched an interactive window at the Ralph Lauren’s Madison Avenue store, where similar technology was employed to create a US Open tennis themed window. And according to the Polo Ralph Lauren site, “the touch screen is powered by a transparent foil applied directly to the glass; a rear projection screen is then used to complete the 67” through-window touch shopping experience.”

–          Understand the customer and recommend them products. High street retailers value customer interaction through these new digital platforms and are one of the fastest adopters of digital technologies. But how can these businesses transition these experiences through to their online platforms?

One upcoming company capitalizing on this opportunity is Clothes Horse, which created a “recommendation engine” application for online clothing retailers to implement into their e-marketplace and online checkout process. The application enables the consumer to describe his or her body type and attributes, and based on the merchant inputs and previous customer feedback, it produces a prediction of the size that would best fit you. It adapts and refines over time to become more accurate.

One thing is clear: window marketing is dramatically different from the days where posters were not worthy of a second look dominated an office exterior. Organisations now need to realize the opportunities presented to them with today’s digital capabilities, and continually look for new and innovative tactics to get customers into the doors of their shops. What is even clearer is the demands of a consistent experience from the customer, is much more of a differentiator than price.

For me, it will be interesting to see how high street retailers continue to adapt their marketing strategy and compete with more and more online competition. One recommendation I will make, is go book your trip to New York and check out some of today’s best window marketing practices during the holiday season. However – consider yourself warned – the window marketing stimulation tactics might just instigate a holiday purchase!