Feature: Digital hits the aisles, part two

In this three-part strategy magazine media feature, writer Jonathan Paul reveals the new digital landscape at play in today's retail environments and how RBC, Bell and Vidéotron are using it.

In the second of a three-part strategy magazine feature adapted for Media in Canada, writer Jonathan Paul looks at the new ways in which digital technology is being used in retail in environments. Read part one here.

In Montreal, Quebec telco Vidéotron recently unveiled its new flagship store, designed by Sid Lee, which, along with a flashy LED-animated multimedia staircase (and soundproof booths equipped with 85-inch HD screens), features multi-touch flat-screen countertops with similar street-facing units mounted on the store’s exterior. While the indoor touch-screens allow visitors to navigate the company’s product and plan offerings, their outdoor counterparts enable passersby to take photos, or make videos to add to a gallery, as well as email, or even text their friends.

Bell recently brought an interactive touch of its own to its stores, part of an ongoing retail revamp that began two years ago following its rebranding. Working with Toronto-based St. Joseph Communications’ digital marketing arm Alchemy, Toronto-based design shop Burdifilek, as well as Leo Burnett and Zulu Alpha Kilo, Bell heightened the presence of animation and digital signage to present its products and services in a more dynamic way, culminating last summer with the inclusion of touch-screen technology.

‘Bell really wanted to have a customer engage a screen and have a dialogue with it, which means they can drill down further on any product, any one of the services and get more information so it actually brings the customer closer to that point of purchase,’ says Michael Chase, VP, marketing and creative, St. Joseph Media.

‘[It's] about treating the customer as a smarter, newer, different kind of animal than they’ve ever seen before. It’s really saying, ‘we don’t want to limit you’ – how much flexibility can we provide in doing things in a digital manner that allows the customer to explore and get to the best they can get out of Bell as a whole?’

Telcos aren’t the only ones building interactive tech into their stores. RBC is using it to help redefine its branch model, reinventing them as more of a retail environment.

Initiated three years ago, RBC’s Retail by Design (RBD) project, designed by Toronto-based Perennial and implemented by CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), headquartered in L.A., is seeing branches being outfitted with touch-screen tech, making the banking experience less daunting for customers by changing the way RBC approaches them with products and services.

‘Customer demands and expectations are changing,’ says Alan Depencier, VP, marketing services and transformation, RBC Royal Bank. ‘We knew from trends in our customer research that clients were used to a shopping experience that is much more engaging and transparent than what a retail bank has traditionally offered.’

A Microsoft Surface table is located at the centre of RBD branches, where customers can learn more at their leisure about a financial product, service or category.

For more information they can progress to the various service-specific merchandisers, each one featuring an interactive touch-screen explaining their product in more detail. EK3, Sapient, Infusion and MTM all helped implement the in-store tech.

The branches are also laid out differently, built around the tech installations, so that customers can navigate more easily. They can then go even further and engage with tellers who are more apt to step out from behind a counter to help.

‘[Applying] retail principles in the bank, and technology, have allowed people to look at products a little more closely,’ says Danny Kyriazis, VP, global retail programs, Perennial. ‘RBC has started looking at banking in a way that’s more about what the customer needs rather than what it wants to sell. The ability to use technology to make a complex product much simpler makes customers feel far more empowered. It makes them feel smarter about deciding to bank with RBC.’

An RBC RBD prototype branch opened in Burlington, ON., in October, with a second launched in December in Halifax. RBC has plans for one more proof-of-concept store to open before it rolls out RBD elements across its network over the next couple of years.