Technology meets beauty in a New York subway station

Technology meets beauty in a New York subway station

The latest project by the Metropolitan Transit Authority is a little more glamorous than you might expect.

The MTA has teamed with L'Oreal Paris to launch an interactive "virtual retail" kiosk that can detect the colors in a user's clothes and then recommends beauty products with coordinating hues.

The kiosk's large screen, situated next to a full-length smart mirror, is loaded with software that scans the user to create digital animations that represent their silhouette. The colors the user is wearing appear alongside their reflection, accompanied by eye, lip and nail shade recommendations that match or clash with their outfit.

The kiosk gives customers the option to purchase the recommended products, or if they decide not buy, they can opt to send the look to their email to save for later. A third screen on the kiosk displays blog posts and photos from influential NYC beauty bloggers.

The kiosk, which was developed by digital agency R/GA, with advertising muscle from CBS Outdoor, is in a pilot that officially launched Nov. 4 at the city's Fifth Avenue Bryant Park subway station.

Natalie Gagliordi, editor of our sister publication Kiosk Marketplace, spoke with Paul Fleuranges, senior director of communication for the MTA.

Gagliordi: Why is the NYC Subway a location fitting for this type of kiosk? And kiosks in general?

Fleuranges: New York City is the fashion capital of the world, and the 42nd St. Bryant Park station just happens to be the subway station closest to where the iconic Fashion Week trends were first set up years ago before the event moved to Lincoln Center. In fact the station sits directly below the park. The New York City Subway is an ideal location to market to people on the move, in this case it just so happens to be our female customers who are some of the most fashionable in the world.

In general, we think kiosks can be used for a variety of functions. The fact is our MetroCard Vending Machines, which customers use debit or credit to purchase their fare media, were the first kiosks deployed in the system. And they do robust sales. This past August they did more than $240.7 million in sales, on a base of 16.4 million customer transactions — that's up almost 8 percent over 2012. So customers have no aversion to using debit or credit at a vending kiosk to purchase a product, but what we're interested in is whether that will translate into other products, be it cosmetics or some other packaged goods category.

For the On the Go! Travel Station kiosk, those put travel information in the system in a way never done before — through interactive technology, which we hope will help us communicate to customers in a more agile way while providing them with information they need at the point of transit decision. We also believe OTG will help us save money on printing and posting costs and improve our customers' perception of the system.

Gagliordi:Why do you think this type of technology is appealing to users?

Fleuranges: In general, customers are quite adept at handling new technology and have become accustomed to interacting with technology across a number of verticals. When we surveyed our customers following the initial five-station roll out of On the Go! we found that, at each station, between two-thirds and nine-in-10 respondents said the device made them feel more confident using trains and subways. Additionally, 85 percent or more of respondents at each station found the device “very” or “somewhat easy” to use.

With the acceptance of tablets, phablets and other interactive technology in other parts of their lives, our customers want access to the same technology in our system. We're trying to make strategic investments in technology that improves the rider experience and helps improve efficiency.

Gagliordi: Is the L'Oreal kiosk being used to glean any user data, either for marketing or advertising purposes?

Fleuranges: Both — we're looking to L'Oreal and R/GA to provide us with the metadata we need on customer interactions, passive and active, sales etc. Having this data will help inform our decision on whether to pursue other pilots or to issue a formal RFP for several locations.

Gagliordi:Does this open the possibility for more retail-focused kiosks around the stations?

Fleuranges: We have seen other retail-focused kiosks used in other systems here in the U.S. and elsewhere. We need to understand the business metrics behind it before we move forward, but yes, we do have an interest in general in the technology and feel it can help us generate ROI on those in-system real estate assets that are underperforming. They may also play a role where we have removed station booths. Our hope, of course, is that other retail or e-tail focused technology can help us improve the customer experience and also generate additional non-farebox revenue.

Read more about kiosks and self service. Photo courtesy of MTA.

Topics: Assisted Selling, Automated Retail / Vending, Kiosk Branding, Kiosks / Self-Service, Multifunction Kiosks, Technology

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