Luxottica execs outline 'visual' strategy at New York retail convention

"We're really focused on engaging the customer"

NEW YORK - Mobile apps and digital sales platforms are all the rage this year at the National Retail Federation’s 2016 Big Show in New York. But when it comes to boosting revenue in the world’s 7,000 Luxottica stores, it’s about the visuals.

In separate presentations at NRF this week, Luxottica executives described how “virtual try on” apps and “story-telling” window displays have become key elements in the company’s retail strategy.

And that could go a long way toward orchestrating job growth in Cincinnati’s northern suburbs.

Luxottica is a Milan-based conglomerate that generates more than $8 billion in annual revenue by designing, manufacturing and branding prescription frames and sunglasses under dozens of monikers, including Oakley, Oliver Peoples and Ray Ban. Its 7,000 retail stores include Sunglass Hut, Lenscrafters and Pearle Vision.

Luxottica global HQ Milan

Luxottica’s North American headquarters is one of Mason’s largest employers. It’s also a major growth driver for the 77,000-employee company.

In fact, the company cited a “buoyant performance” by the Cincinnati-founded Lenscrafters brand as one of its bright spots in the third quarter, in which the company reported $7.4 billion in revenue through nine months of 2015, 59 percent of it from North America.

Jeff Fisher

“They’re instrumental,” said Jeff Fisher, global store experience and visual merchandising director for Sunglass Hut, in an exclusive interview with WCPO. “Because of the success and sophistication of the U.S. market and the U.S. team, there’s so much knowledge that can be shared with the corporate office.”

Fisher relocated from Mason to Milan in 2013 to develop a global approach to visual merchandising and in-store design and graphics for Luxottica’s Sunglass Hut brand. Fisher described the company’s approach in a Jan. 17 session, In-Store Analytics: How to Organize Internally for Maximum Impact.

“We have a very high-rotation front window,” he said. “We change our windows every two to three weeks.”

The goal is to keep brand lineups fresh so sales data and in-store traffic counts can help evaluate what brands are driving a particular store’s sales. That helps Luxottica demonstrate which marketing message resonates with consumers in a certain demographic group or geographic territory.

“With so many brands and such a broad assortment within our stores, it allows us to tell more stories,” Fisher told WCPO. “Each brand has their own focus, their own message they’re trying to communicate. Sometimes it’s about a product. Sometimes it’s about a completely new launch. When we look at it from a front-window perspective … we’re able to tell the story in a bigger way than just having a small sign on the shelf.”

But that visual presentation isn’t limited to the front door.

Luxottica has achieved a 90 percent satisfaction rate with an in-store app that lets customers take pictures of themselves with different eyeglass frames, said Chantell Comberger, head of in-store technology for Luxottica Retail.

Chantell Comberger

“We have about 14,000 mobile devices deployed within our stores,” Comberger said. “We’ve really focused on engaging the customer with our iPads.”

Lenscrafters customers can use its mobile app to to test frames with different price points. Luxottica’s luxury retail brands have deployed a “virtual try-on “ app that gives customers a 360-degree view of how Ray Ban and Oakley shades would look on them. At Sunglass Hut, the “Social Sun” app lets customers gather feedback from friends and family by posting photos of their potential purchase on social media.

Comberger described the various approaches in a Jan. 18 presentation: Modernize the Retail Experience with Mobile Devices.

Three retailers participated in the discussion: Luxottica, the department store chain, Belk Inc., and Ascena Retail Group Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based chain whose 7,000 stores include Justice, DressBarn and Lane Bryant.

All three retailers said they are using mobile devices to enable store associates to search for inventory, make online orders, provide information to customers and punch a time card without walking to the cash register or store manager’s office to clock in.

The use of mobile devices allow retailers to capture “mobile moments” that empower store employees to deliver “relevant content” at a time when the consumer wants it the most, said Blake Brannon, vice president of marketing at VMWare Airwatch, moderator of the NRF panel.

“It does allow engagement,” said Scott Hatten, Ascena’s director of store technology. “It bridges the gap between the customer and the associate. Instead of just wondering whether that item is in stock, we can stand there with the customer, show her the product in another color, another size and speak to her about it right there. We can capture her in the moment. We can capture the sale.”

Luxottica has been experimenting with mobile technology in its stores for more than two years. Now, it’s looking to take the next step by testing beacon technology in its stores.

Beacons are digital devices that use Bluetooth signals to track smart phone users inside the store, often collecting data on traffic patterns and shopper demographics. That data is used to send discount offers and other marketing messages to shoppers who opt in to receive them.

After launching three years ago, beacons have been criticized by privacy advocates as intrusive and dismissed by critics as a marketing failure. But retailers are still experimenting with the technology.

Belk, for example, deployed “hundreds of beacons” in a 7-store test over the holiday season, said James Morse, omnichannel technology lead for the Charlotte, North Carolina-based department store company. Belk also demonstrated a doubling of coupon redemptions on Black Friday, using beacons to direct in-store offers to shoppers.

“We’re looking at integrating beacons to see how often the customer is returning, dwell time, things like that,” Comberger told NRF attendees.

In an interview, Comberger said Luxottica is approaching the use of beacons cautiously because it wants to address privacy concerns. But she expects beacon technology to be tested in Luxottica stores by the end of this year.

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