June 15, 2017 | by Judy Mottl

Neiman Marcus iLab leader Scott Emmons discusses how the retailer is using innovative technology to enhance the customer experience at its newest store in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo courtesy of ICX Summit.

Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus is all about digital technology and embracing more than a few ways to tap innovative experiences for the consumer.

At the retailer's newest location, in Fort Worth, Dallas, it starts the moment a shopper opens the door and continues throughout the store, extending even into the dressing room areas.

Yet, as Neiman Marcus' Scott Emmons explained, the customer-engaging technology, which range from touch-screen digital directories inside the store lobby to customizing music playlist during dressing room use, is just one piece of the Neiman Marcus digital story. Emmons is founder and chief of the Neiman Marcus Innovation Lab (iLab), which launched in 2012.

The other pieces include a mesmerizing store design and an amazing focus on art — how many other retailers have an original Matisse in the baby changing area? But there it hangs in the two-story 90,000-square-foot store.

Supporting the arts, since 2013, has been a prime focus for Neiman Marcus. Co-founder Stanley Marcus has stated "art enhances the quality of people's lives and the customer experience." The retailer's website notes research proves students who dabble in arts within their curriculum tend to matriculate and graduate at higher rates, score higher on the SAT exam, and are more creative problem solvers and engaged civic leaders.

At the new store, the art collection includes not only features two Matisse paintings but original Halston sketches as well as a Frank Stella in the men's department. There are also creations by local artists commissioned to create works for specific sections of the store and reflecting the North Texas culture and landscape.

A tour of wonder

Emmons led a tour of the newest Neiman Marcus store during the ICX Summit event held in early June in Dallas. The tour was one of four unique experiences attendees could participate in during the three-day conference focused on interactive customer experience. The event also showcased innovations from robotics to advanced digital displays and featured expert insight through panels and sessions.

Neiman's newest store, at The Shops at Clearfork, has been described by Neiman leaders as 'the store of the future.' The Shops at Clearfork, a 270-acre mixed use development, will also be a new home to fellow upscale retailers including Tiffany, Burberry and Tory Burch. Prior, Neiman Marcus operated a Fort Worth store in the Ridgmar Mall since the mid 1970s and closed that location at the end of January.

The quest for Neiman Marcus is to engage shoppers from the moment they step into the lobby and advance into the retail showroom. At its newest store, that first step offers a touchscreen digital directory and then brings the shopper directly into the beauty department where Neiman's innovative smart mirror technology, which first debuted in 2015, is within quick reach.

The latest mirror version offers various lighting choices and enables users to record on video the makeup application in 'chapters' (think cheeks, lips, eyes). Shoppers can access the video, via an email link, after the store makeover for future reference. The video is also stored in a customer's profile for access during the next store visit. The makeover mirror, which automatically frames a user's head in the display, also offers a 'before' and 'after' experience for future review.

In simple terms, the once-standard 'makeover' experience at a cosmetic counter is now an interactive how-to on products in the at-home application. The video also includes social media links so shoppers can share the beauty experience with friends and provides a list of the specific products used in the makeover.

"It's a tutorial on how to use what they tried and they now know the exact shade, product, brand used," explained Emmons, noting there are nine such mirrors in the new store and 60 overall across Neiman Marcus locations.

"Shoppers can touch, feel and explore and don't need an associate's help if they don't want it," he added.

That sensory experience continues throughout the store, most notably in the glass-wall 'fragrance room,' boasting eight distinct fragrance categories. It's truly an olfactory experience with scents changing from floral to citrus to woodsy as shoppers walk through displays of brands.

Adjacent to the fragrance area are the two complimentary spa rooms complete with massage tables and décor for a relaxing experience. These spa rooms let shoppers experience complimentary services offerings from vendors.

Brand product areas are designed as marketplaces tied to lifestyle needs. The technology approach, said Emmons, is to blend "tiny touches" into the store design and to not detract from the store experience.

For example, at the Luxottica display, there's a sunglass memory mirror where shoppers can record trying on options. The mirror, which is supported by the vendor, is available at 10 Neiman Marcus stores nationwide. The mirror also auto frames the user's face and records the try-on session. Right now, there is just one lighting option but that will expand, said Emmons.

"Shoppers can text and email and socially share the videos of their session, which also lets them compare various products and see them side by side," said Emmons.

The user interface has been specifically designed to be as simple as possible.

"The shopper is in the moment," and the mirror is helping sell sunglasses per associates' feedback, noted Emmons.

Store design provides capability to shift quick to shopper interest

The new store's design is also allowing Neiman Marcus to be nimble and quick when clothing trends hit.

For example, when a huge boom in sneaker interest came into play, the design allowed the store to capitalize by designing a centralized display of products in quick fashion.

The location also boasts a Men's Club Room, featuring a lounge area complete with television and comfy seating. Shoppers can even order a drink from the in-store café while relaxing.

The store design is also allowing Neiman Marcus to be more efficient in using what's typically wasted space in areas such as fitting rooms.

The store is now tapping those areas to promote clothing accessories that a shopper, while trying on an outfit, can easily grab. Over in the men's dressing room area there's a "foundation needs" section – a fully stocked wall offering up accessories such as socks and underwear to go with those new slacks or shirt.

It's a new approach to assisted selling, explained Emmons.

In the jewelry department there's a special room, the Precious Jewels Viewing Room, providing greater privacy for shoppers interested in high-end products.

Digital technology comes into play again in the high-end gadget departments where iPad Pros and video interface provide real-time insight on how to use products.

"It's an inexpensive way to tell the tech story [of the products]," said Emmons.

The 'memory' mirror technology is also being tapped as a 'fashion mirror' outside of dressing rooms in a lounge area. Shoppers can get a 360-degree view of what they're wearing and, as with the makeover mirror, they can share the video real time with friends or a spouse for feedback before purchase. While trying on clothes shoppers can also customize music, via the app Rockbot and its playlist, to listen to via an innovative jukebox service.

"Women shopping and seeking validation can get it in real time and share the experience with a friend or spouse," said Emmons.

Right now, Neiman has 40 such fashion mirrors across its store footprint nationwide and it's been an evolving process in terms of different display technology, noted Emmons.

"We are learning from the experiments we're doing," noting that initially the fashion mirrors were built using iPads that were replaced five months later with more reliable technology.

Another technology service, ChargeItSpot, is a large station where shoppers can lock up and charge a device while shopping. Available in most Neiman Marcus locations at this point, it's still an evolving strategy as placement remains in flux given feedback from shoppers and store design. In the new store it is situated near the escalators, but Emmons said he is researching a better location.

The dressing rooms offer push-button concierge service – the shopper can reach an associate for a different size or product without having to leave the dressing room.

"It gives them lightning-fast service," said Emmons, adding that associates, through the 'alert' service, are also always aware of which dressing rooms are vacant and which are in use. The great results at the new store is prompting Neiman Marcus to install the technology into a store in Hawaii, he added.

Top retail 'tool' isn't digital however

While the new Dallas store boasts a wide range of innovative technology that is helping consumers across the store's footprint, the best technology isn't one that's digital or can videotape or is built with a touchscreen.

"The best tech is the sales associate," said Emmons, explaining associates are constantly introducing and helping consumers take advantage of all the new interactive tools.

And that human element, within such an advanced and innovative digital customer experience, is not driving sales but customer satisfaction and loyalty to both Neiman Marcus and its brand partners.


Topics: Assisted Selling, Consumer Behavior, CRM, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Department Stores, Digital Merchandising, Digital Signage, Display Technology, ICX Summit, In-Store Media, Interactive / Touchscreen, Kiosks, Kiosks / Self-Service, Marketing, Merchandising, Retail - Apparel, Shopper Marketing, Signage, Specialty Stores, Store Design & Layout, Technology

Companies: Interactive Customer Experience Summit (ICX Summit), ICX Association


Judy Mottl / Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.
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