Swivel Close-Up, a Kinect for Windows-based kiosk from FaceCake, lets customers visualize themselves in small accessories such as makeup, sunglasses, and jewelry.
Microsoft Kinect for Windows has been playing an increasingly important role in retail, from interactive kiosks at stores such as Build-A-Bear Workshop, to virtual dressing rooms at fashion leaders like Bloomingdale's, to virtual showrooms at Nissan dealerships. This year's National Retail Federation (NRF) Convention and Expo, which took place earlier this week, showcased several solutions that provide retailers with new ways to drive customer engagement, sales, and loyalty.
Trend watchers have noted significant shifts in how consumers shop—often blending online and in-store investigation by using phones, tablets, kiosks, and computers in addition to good old-fashioned salesperson interaction. Brick-and-mortar stores, which are facing vigorous competition from online resellers, are embracing new technologies like Kinect for Windows to help drive sales and retention—and to delight and surprise customers with fun, interactive shopping experiences. Even better, customers can get more accurate and personalized information about whether a specific product is right for them—whether it's an article of clothing or a piece of furniture—reducing dissatisfaction and inconvenient returns.
"This past holiday season, we’ve seen retailers get much more tech savvy in how they engage customers and offer more flexibility in how they shop," said Kinect for Windows Senior Channel Development Manager Michael Fry. "As the lines between traditional and digital shopping channels continue to blur, retailers must seek new ways to deliver the most value and earn loyalty through compelling, seamless experiences across all touch points with their customers. Technologies like Kinect for Windows help retailers engage customers with interactive shopping experiences that are not only fun, but also increase important bottom-line business results—increasing engagement, awareness, and brand value while making it easier to select the best products for them."
At a hospitality event during NRF, Kinect for Windows partner Avanade showed one such innovation: their "shoppable storefront," created for my-wardrobe.com in Norway. Customers can walk up to the showroom window and—even after business hours—interact with the Kinect for Windows sensor to browse the store catalog, view pricing, and scan a Quick Response (QR) code to quickly purchase the product online via mobile phone. See a video of how it works.
"Consider the possibilities within the store, they're almost endless with a technology like Kinect for Windows," said John Konczal, director of service line marketing at Avanade. "You could build a guide for customers to find more information about products and quickly locate them in the store. If an item is not available, order it for shipment and pick-up at the nearest store. The interactivity, simplicity, and responsiveness of this technology can really help retailers differentiate their stores from the competition."
Avanade also demonstrated Natural User Observation of Retail Displays (NUO), which provides a cost-effective solution for retailers by gathering real-time customer response and behavior. This allows retail managers to do things like determine where customers are spending their time in the store, identify trends, and gather demographic and customer behavior as they interact with store displays. Avanade reports that the solution integrates into existing store and back-office IT systems and provides dashboards and data-rich reporting for improving product placement, marketing effectiveness, and overall display performance.
Another of our partners, FaceCake Marketing Technologies, Inc., which developed Swivel, the 3-D virtual dressing room that's been featured at Bloomingdale's, showed NRF attendees the newest enhancements to their Swivel software. The enhancements, which work in conjunction with the latest Kinect for Windows SDK, include face-tracking and a feature called real-time Compare, which allows you to contrast two looks in a full-motion visualization of yourself in two dresses (or any type of clothing) side-by-side. Sizing is now even more accurate, and FaceCake also added multi-user functionality that allows, for example, a bride to see herself, virtually, in various wedding dresses at the same time as her bridesmaids see themselves in their bridesmaid dresses.
We also featured another exciting new product from FaceCake in our booth: Swivel Close-Up. This Kinect for Windows-based kiosk, which operates within a two-foot environment, lets customers try on much smaller accessories than clothing including makeup, sunglasses, and jewelry. Earrings dangle and twist beautifully as a shopper tries them on virtually, and consumers now have the opportunity to try on a limitless number of lip colors without lipstick ever touching their lips.
"We can now provide an extended Try-On solution that is real-time, 3-D, and full motion as opposed to just uploading a static image and then modifying it," said FaceCake CEO Linda Smith. "The result is a lifelike representation that's just like looking in a mirror—your dream dressing room mirror powered by Swivel and Kinect for Windows! It's both efficient and fun for the customer."
One of the key themes of this year's NRF event was putting customers at the center of retail marketing, something that Kinect for Windows accomplishes readily, thanks to its ability to quickly entice customers into virtual shopping spaces within actual storefronts, making it easier than ever for them to find, experience, and purchase products that are right for them.
"Staying competitive in retail today means putting customers at the heart of the business and seeking new ways to deliver value in the store," Fry said. "A Kinect for Windows retail display immediately puts the focus on the shopper, delivering uniquely personalized results that drive both sales and customer satisfaction."
Kinect for Windows team
Almost two years ago, Microsoft announced its intent to take Kinect beyond gaming and make it possible for developers and businesses to innovate with Kinect on computers. The Kinect for Windows team was born.
Shortly after that, I joined the team to oversee Program Management, and over the past year, we’ve shipped the Kinect for Windows sensor as well as multiple updates to the Kinect for Windows software development kit (SDK). Throughout it all, Craig Eisler has been leading our business.
This month, Craig is moving on to do other important work at Microsoft, and I am stepping in to lead the Kinect for Windows team. I am excited to maintain the amazing momentum we’ve seen in industries like healthcare, retail, education, and automotive. There have been more than 500,000 downloads of our free SDK, and the Kinect for Windows sensor can be purchased in 39 regions today.
Such rapid growth would not have been possible without the community embracing the technology. Thanks to all of you—business leaders, technical leaders, creative visionaries, and developers—Kinect for Windows has been deployed across the globe. The community is developing new ways for consumers to shop for clothing and accessories, interesting digital signage that delights and inspires customers, remote monitoring tools that make physical therapy easier, more immersive training and simulation applications across multiple industries, and touch-free computing tools that enable surgeons to view patient information without having to leave the operating room. The list goes on and on…and the list is growing every day.
We launched Kinect for Windows nearly one year ago—pioneering a commercial technology category that didn’t previously exist. I look forward to continuing to be at the forefront of touch-free computing and helping our partners develop innovative solutions that take the natural user interface vision even further. We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is just the beginning. I’m thrilled to continue the great foundational work we did in 2012 and look forward to a very productive 2013.
Bob HeddleDirector, Kinect for Windows