Why retailers are turning shop fronts into high-impact outdoor ads

Shop windows are becoming increasingly valuable marketing assets as brands transform spaces into retail theatre.

Topshop Ivy Parl

Despite digital now dominating retail sales, brands are creating real consumer engagement by treating windows and shop fronts across their store portfolio as innovative outdoor ads. The magnitude of some of these executions creates genuine retail theatre that gets people talking and exploring the brand in new ways, which is only emphasised when integrated into a wider out-of-home (OOH) campaign.

In April, high street giant Topshop capitalised on the commanding position of its Oxford Street store to promote the launch of Ivy Park, its hotly anticipated activewear tie-up with singer Beyoncé.

For two weeks, the retailer covered the front of its flagship store with an enormous 20 metre square banner showing the pop star sporting a swimsuit from the range. The hero shot was mirrored in the window, which featured a screen playing the campaign video on repeat.

“The strategy was to create maximum awareness and engagement for the range at street level,” explains Sheena Sauvaire, Topshop global marketing and communications director.

The retailer wanted to showcase the “compelling campaign imagery” in what Sauvaire calls “a heroic way”.

“We felt the iconic positioning of our global store provided us with the best platform to do this for maximum visibility and talkability,” she adds. “Our store is in a high traffic area and we capture the consumer when they are in the shopping or browsing frame of mind, thereby having a higher chance of conversion.”

To feed into the hype surrounding the launch and to create an additional layer of shareable content, Topshop invited Beyoncé-endorsed US tap dance group Syncopated Ladies to perform at the branch on the day the collection was unveiled.

“Shopping in a physical store should be as much about entertainment as it is about transaction and we wanted to give consumers a memorable experience,” Sauvaire adds.

On the same day in April, H&M celebrated World Recycle Week by projecting an abstract green coral reef across the face of its Oxford Street flagship store, to coincide with a special gig it hosted in-store with singer and campaign ambassador MIA. The light display was linked to an interactive floor inside, allowing shoppers to change the colour of the windows by walking across the tiles, again creating interest beyond the store front itself.

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Harvey Nichols’ destination menswear campaign featured in all 11 of the retailer’s Knightsbridge store’s windows

Create an immersive experience

The use of windows and store fronts to promote campaigns, special events and high-profile collaborations is set to grow in popularity as OOH advertising in general experiences an uplift. OOH ad spend hit £1.1bn in 2015, up 3.9% on 2014, and is expected to rise a further 4.9% this year according to the Advertising Association/Warc Expenditure Report.

Integrating shop window activity into a wider campaign that spans other outdoor locations and encourages sharing on social media is essential to maximise value and impact.

“There is huge value in tying the message from [shop] windows to an immersive experience,” claims Katie Ingram, strategy planning director at OOH marketing body Outsmart.

“Creative campaigns that include corridor wraps and dominations put brands front-of-mind before the store window has the chance to do the talking. This kind of campaign cuts through the noise and helps attract a new customer base.”

Standing by its belief in the longevity of fashion, Jigsaw promoted its spring 2016 ‘Lived Not Modelled’ campaign by linking the windows of two of its prominent London stores with an entrance takeover on the London Underground, for two weeks from 3 March.

“The windows are a big part of the campaign so we decided to tie the concept of our Argyll Street and Covent Garden store windows with our outdoor media activity at Oxford Circus,” explains Jigsaw group brand marketing manager Rebecca Luton.

“We had to make sure the concept worked digitally so we created short videos portraying moments from the ad campaign, which could be shared on social media and had the campaign video playing on loop in the windows.”

While Luton says it is difficult to directly attribute a sales uplift to the OOH campaign, the Lived Not Modelled concept page on the Jigsaw website attracted 20,000 views, up from 9,000 views for the previous iteration of the campaign last autumn, with page dwell time increasing. The uplift in traffic for Spring 2016 was also connected to an increase in digital spend by the brand including on a video reiterating the campaign story.

“Windows are really valuable marketing space that we don’t have to pay for,” she explains. “We’re extremely lucky to have some amazing locations and beautiful buildings, which are great spaces we can work with.

“Whereas online you have to be more commercially-led, with our windows we can be more disruptive and creative. We have complete control of the space and can tailor what we want people to see and then follow up with an immersive in-store experience.”

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High street retailer H&M used the windows of its flagship store to mark World Recycle Week

Take a consistent approach

For online retailer Made.com, having a showroom presence provides a physical touchpoint through which it can connect with consumers. The furniture brand has three UK showrooms, including an 8,000 square foot space in the heart of London’s Soho, which opened in January 2015.

“We view the showroom as a brand cathedral; a really great way to engage with customers and an important conversion tool,” explains Made.com commercial director Annabel Kilner.

As a digital retailer, shop windows were new for the brand. Made.com initially created a display using light tubes in the shape of iconic furniture pieces, but despite the design effort, it did not create the desired impact.

“We [realised we] needed to act more like a high street retailer and in August 2015, we brought the showroom windows in line with rest of our ‘Made You Look’ outdoor advertising campaign,” she adds.

To reflect this change of positioning, each window showed a small collection of furniture featured in the wider campaign, which included London Underground ads and billboards as well as a TV ad, which played on loop in the showroom windows.

While connecting its windows to the wider marketing campaign may seem like a subtle change, the move had an “incredibly positive” impact according to Kilner, driving a 10-15% increase in footfall into the showroom and greater use of the tablets inside to browse the rest of the Made.com collection.

“We missed a trick at the beginning with the windows not being fully aligned, [but] we now absolutely try to replicate the campaign across all channels,” says Kilner. “Now the windows reflect the new campaign and we also use the showroom as an event space.”

Going forward Made.com is looking to open showrooms in key cities in each of its markets.

Retail theatre

Harvey Nichols flexed its creative muscle for the launch of its revamped menswear floor, which saw all 11 windows of its Knightsbridge department store dedicated to men’s fashion.

Unveiled on 1 April and running until mid-June, the ‘Destination Menswear’ window scheme centres on men within their home environment, taking trends from the spring 2016 collections and weaving them into unusual settings from living rooms to garden sheds. The windows also feature vinyls sporting the Destination Menswear hashtag, intended to encourage shoppers to share the images on social media and help the team track engagement.

“Our windows are seen each day by thousands of people travelling past so they are an amazing space for us to speak to the consumer about our brand,” says Harvey Nichols head of visual display Janet Wardley.

“There’s a lot more scope to be creative with our windows [compared to outdoor ads] and to tell a specific story. The concepts can create a sense of magic and theatre. We work extremely closely with the marketing team on all concepts, approaching them with a 360-degree view to ensure we’re communicating the same story across all channels.”

Harvey Nichols linked the Destination Menswear windows to a wider menswear campaign that went live on 5 May, including OOH advertising on billboards at Canary Wharf, as well as digital ads on Spotify and YouTube.

“We view the showroom as a brand cathedral; a really great way to engage with customers“

Annabel Kilner, Made.com

Shoppable windows

Department store House of Fraser took its window scheme even further for Black Friday 2015 by launching shoppable windows at 13 stores including Oxford Street, Glasgow and Birmingham.

Live for three days, the windows used augmented reality (AR) technology from Dutch AR specialist Layar. Connecting to the House of Fraser iPhone app, a ‘scan to explore’ feature was triggered by scanning the window vinyl with a smartphone, unlocking shoppable Black Friday deals. House of Fraser also added a ‘scan to win’ feature, entering customers into a competition to win a £250 gift card.

“We’d been running various trials using Layar technology in the lead-up to Black Friday and felt that with so much hype surrounding this year’s event, it would be the ideal opportunity to try something that could not only save customers’ time, but provide them with an easy way to shop the offers,” explains House of Fraser director of digital product Sarah Stagg.

“People are so used to being able to shop anywhere, 24 hours a day; allowing them to buy what’s in the window without having to wait for the store to open is a natural progression.”

Stagg describes customer interaction with the app following the shoppable windows trial as “really positive”, with app downloads during the period up 45% compared to the previous week and rising 26% year-on-year.

With the advent of location-based information services like beacon technology and Google’s Eddystone android solution, opportunities are opening up for retailers and brands to trace the customer journey from home to high street, integrating shop windows into the wider experience.

“Retailers have valuable commercial real estate with their shop windows and I don’t think that any developments in the OOH world would prevent them from maximising their potential,” Outsmart’s Ingram concludes. “However, as our world develops it will surely influence the way retailers interact with consumers through their windows.”

Case study: Cancer Research UK champions contactless donation windows

Contactless payments are catching on in the charity sector as an easy way to donate. Cancer Research UK kicked off its contactless activity back in February 2015, unveiling contactless donation windows in four shops. The shops, located in High Street Kensington, Marylebone, Brighton and Guilford, were selected due to their high footfall and local acceptance of contactless technology.

Joining forces with outdoor media owners Clear Channel and MediaCom, the Cancer Research UK windows enabled supporters to donate £2 by tapping their contactless debit or credit card on the window. The act of donating activated a video in the store window showing the positive impact of the donation.

Operational for 24 hours a day, seven days a week for two weeks, the contactless windows received a huge amount of interest, according to Cancer Research UK director of digital and supporter experience Michael Docherty.

“Nearly 70,000 people engaged with our campaign in the two-week live period, which shows a real appetite for convenient ways to donate. The results have been very promising and we will explore repeating the activity in some London and city centre shops.”

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