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How Neiman Marcus Rolls Out In-Store Technology: Speed Is The Essence

Whether it's installing a new communication platform or tools for enhancing customers' in-store experience, Neiman Marcus Innovation Labs' Scott Emmons doesn't want to waste any time.

Retailers’ recognition that developing digital applications to match connected consumers’ in-store needs was a recurring theme at trade conferences over the past year, particularly at recent major industry conclaves like CES and NRF.

Neiman Marcus has been moving rapidly to adopt an array of digital features at its 40-plus brick-and-mortar locations in the U.S., as Jeff Rosenfeld, Neiman Marcus’ VP of customer insights and analytics, told GeoMarketing‘s Lauryn Chamberlain at NRF 17 this week.

In our second look at Neiman Marcus’ approach to vetting the technology it employs, both for in-store sales associates as well as consumer-facing tech like its Memory Mirror for shoppers, we turned to Scott Emmons, the head of the retailer’s Innovation Lab in Irving, Texas, following a presentation he gave earlier this month at Brand Innovators’ Mega-Trends conference in Las Vegas.

Theatro's voice-activated communicator has been rolled out at Neiman Marcus. The retailer demoed the device at the NRF 17.
Theatro’s voice-activated communicator has been rolled out at Neiman Marcus. The retailer demoed the device at the NRF 17.

Among the items on Emmons’ mind  — from voice activated digital assistants to offering video tutorials on makeup techniques in-store — was the idea of wearables for staffers as a way of keeping the floor and the executive suite instantly connected.

Neiman Marcus executives demonstrated the rollout of a voice-controlled wearable from in-store tech manufacturer Theatro at the NRF this week. Emmons explained the device’s importance.

GeoMarketing: How did you decide to work with Theatro?

Scott Emmons: I think the Theatro project is amazing. The whole point is being able to tie the team in to a single, seamless communication network that can be one-to-one or one-to-all. The device is basically like a Star Trek communicator: tap the button and say, “Hello, shoes,” and get connected to an associate in that area. Or I can say, “Hello to all,” and talk to everybody in the store if I need to make an announcement. Everyone from the sales associate to the CEO can use it for instant contact.

How long has Neiman Marcus been using it?

We’ve had the pilot in place for about four months. We started with two stores and just expanded it to two more. I’m working on three additional stores coming online. We’re looking over the next few weeks to expand into Florida and Georgia. Eventually, I would expect our pilot level number of stores to be about twenty stores. I expect it to grow from there. I have a lot of confidence that it’s going to continue to grow.

At the moment, we’ve bumped into a couple little network tunings that need to take place. We’ve found some deadspots we didn’t know we had in our wifi network. We’re working on getting that worked out because, naturally, we want it to be perfect when it goes fully live.

How did you choose Theatro for this project?

I went to a tech conference a couple of years ago. It was like speed dating between retailers and solution providers. There was a party afterwards. and I sat next to the CEO of Theatro [Chris Todd] on the bus. On the way to the party, we spoke about what we do and took it from there.

How does Theatro’s device work?

The device is about the size of a key fob for a car. It’s tiny. The associate wears a Secret Service-style headset. It’s very discreet, the customer won’t notice it.

We’re not really a brand where we’re going to hand Walkie Talkies out on the sales floor to our associates. They’re clunky devices, and unless you have a headset for it as well, it’s going to be heard and it’s going to distract.

The open channel of a Walkie Talkie is unappealing. With Theatro, the idea is that a communication can be directed to a specific person, or the group, or the entire workforce, if that’s what it needs to be, to handle the situation.

How does the use of Theatro’s device improve customer service in-store?

It means lightning-fast customer service. For example, it opens up all kinds of possibilities for assisting customers that are in the fitting room. It turns out there’s a nice loss-prevention play to it as well, because now the loss prevention officer, if they see something that shouldn’t be happening, can alert the on floor associates and immediately get the right person to the trouble spot.

In your presentation, you also touched on how other in-store technology, like the Memory Mirror, has shown the way Neiman Marcus’ omnichannel strategy has continued to evolve. What has the impact been?

We’ve had The Memory Mirror since spring 2015. We now have The Sunglass Mirror, and The Memory Makeover, which is the latest iteration.

The Memory Makeover is the most amazing use case of all. First, it’s easier to deploy than the big mirrors. I don’t need any floor space; I don’t have to have a separate kiosk. So it’s a nice, neat, compact, countertop package.

Memory Mirror has built amazing lighting into the device, so that it’s producing near perfect lighting, the beauty brand associate can control that lighting, and set it to whatever setting that fits the look: outdoors, office, or nightclub for example.

You have all the great Memory Mirror algorithms with high-fidelity reproduction of the video. It includes an amazing user interface that divides the makeover into manageable chapters.

The customer can easily go, “I want to remember how she did the eyes.” She can just press “eyes,” and it goes straight to that “how to” section when she receives her video. It makes it very easy for the customer to navigate the videos.

Were there any challenges in getting that deployed?

We went incredibly fast on this. The time frame from paper concept — this is what we want to do — to approval and, then, to our first 20 mirrors being built from scratch, followed by the physical deployment all took just six weeks.

How do you view other technologies that are being discussed by retailers at conferences from CES to the NRF Big Show? Virtual reality is a hot topic. Does that fit with Neiman Marcus’ interests and service in any way?

VR is terrific, but if you think about it, in your day-to-day life, I’m not sure our customer’s going to want to strap a VR headset on.

One of the things that was attractive to us, and allowed for easy adoption by the sales associate with the Theatro device was that it didn’t change their appearance when they used it.

What about interactive voice assistants like Amazon Echo’s Alexa? Does that kind of technology hold any appeal for Neiman Marcus?

That’s one of the things I didn’t get to. My hot trends for 2017. Conversational commerce is already a major topic. We’ve got lots of solution providers that are doing really interesting things, with chat UIs, and with Alexa, and other voice activated assistants.

There’s a lot of different AI’s living around my house now. Lots of different things I can talk to.

Is it something that you’re actively exploring for in-store?

I’ve already produced and done proof of concepts, and had solution providers build proof of concepts in these areas.

I’ve begun my own internal marketing campaigns to the powers that be saying, “Look at what we could do.” In some cases, I’ve had very good reception, and with others, it’s been more tepid.

That’s okay. That’s part of my job is to try, try, and try again and see what works. That’s the nature of the business.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.