North Face kiosk improves in-store inventory

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Bricks-and-mortar stores can deliver an unparalleled customer experience, which is why so many multichannel merchants are looking to grow their retail business. However, the expense inherent in operating stores also means that many don't stock a brand's full range of products.

The North Face has come up with a solution to creatively merchandise its entire line in its stores. In December, it introduced a new in-store kiosk that is the first consumer-facing retail application deployed on Windows' Vista and features full-screen video and interactive displays.

"You can't put a 15,000-square-foot assortment in a 3,300-square-foot box," said Lindsay Rice, vice president of retail at The North Face, San Leandro, CA.

He was referring to the average size of the brand's smaller stores. The North Face has 12 retail locations around the country and several overseas. In addition, the retailer considered adding an entertaining interactive element to the brand while still delivering a powerful message.

The new kiosks are available in all U.S. stores. More than just a virtual product catalog, The North Face views the kiosks as an extension of its Web site, where customers can watch a video of an expedition or listen to an athlete tell his or her story. The North Face site is not e-commerce enabled.

The kiosks were installed in North Face stores in December. Between Dec. 1 and March 20, 678 products were scanned at the kiosks. The average number of daily sessions was 125 and the average session length was between three and six minutes.

The touch screen of the kiosk starts by showing photographs from The North Face's collection. Customers have a choice of going straight into the product catalog, visiting athletes or expeditions or shopping by product technology.

If they choose to go into the product area, the kiosk automatically begins merchandising the top-selling products in various categories.

"One very important task the kiosk does is provide a high-resolution experience with the product," said Andrew Sirotnik, chief experience officer of Fluid Inc., San Francisco, which developed the kiosk with The North Face.

This is particularly important if the product isn't available in that store or if only a limited selection of colors is available. Previously, a sales associate would have pulled out the print catalog - which has much smaller, static visuals - to show an interested customer a product. Now, the associate can take that customer over to the kiosk.

When customers see something they would like to buy, they can print out a barcode from the kiosk and take it up to the counter to purchase it and have it either delivered to the store or their home. This is an important aspect of the program, because it means that the store is getting credit for the sale. This, in turn, means that sales associates are much more likely to use the kiosk.

In fact, sales associates are reportedly using the kiosk to brush up on their own product knowledge and to cross-sell. For example, if a customer asks about a specific technology, the sales associate can take that customer to the kiosk, scan the product, show a video about that technology and display other products with the same technology.

Customers in the athlete section will find content about a specific athlete, including a biography, quotes, product recommendations and related videos. In addition, any products associated with that athlete are also displayed.

In the expedition section, there are more videos and, again, relevant products are merchandised. In addition, relevant athletes are also presented.

"Merchandise and athletes are the connecting thread to help customers find their way through the funnel in a way that's right for them," Mr. Sirotnik said.

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