June 19, 2013

Interactive Play

Several weeks ago we attended a meetup group discussing how online media and digital technologies are changing the fashion industry and how consumers interact with brands. Here we met Jared Schiffman, the founder & CEO of Perch Interactive, a startup (and spinoff of the award winning firm, Potion) that is changing the way we interact with displays. From engaging customers through photos and video content, to getting them to actually touch, pick up and discover products, Perch Interactive is revolutionizing the way we use interactive technology by helping retailers better understand consumer behavior as well as the overall in-store experience. Luckily enough, we got to sit down with Jared, learn more about the inner workings of his company and pick his brain about where the future of retail stands.

MBF: Can you tell us in a couple of words how Perch Interactive works and a brief history of Perch?

Jared Schiffman: We officially founded last June so we’re about to celebrate our first birthday. What Perch focuses on is to create an interactive experience around this kind of masterful shopping experience. As interactive designers, we looked at retail and we saw that there’s this natural interaction, in other words, when people like something they tend to pick it up. It turns out, there’s quite some retail research that says if you touch something or pick it up in a store, you are automatically 60 to 70 percent more likely to buy it. If we can get people to pick up the product, at that moment when they’re holding the product, is the moment they are most receptive to any additional information. As compared to traditional digital, or any type of advertising usually presented, this media is specific to the product, telling you a story and is literally delivered the moment you already expressed interest in it. It is a way for retailers or brands to show how the product is used – you can show online reviews, you can show videos, etc. It is also good for shoppers as well by providing information that may otherwise not be available at the store level, such as user reviews which is pretty much only available online. And again it shows you how the product might fit into your life.

MBF: Technology is in the process of making the shopping experience very personal. Can multiple people use the technology simultaneously, and can everyone interact with the products?

JS: Yes, absolutely! In fact we intentionally designed it so that multiple people can use it at the same time. For as many products as there are on the table, that is as many people that can be interacting with them. If there are five shoes, five people can be doing different things with them separately.

MBF: Are you planning on connecting social media to the interactive experience?

JS: Yeah we already have actually. We have done some projects that involve Twitter feeds where the tweets are actually brought on to the display. There’s a hashtag next to each product, or a hashtag for the whole display, so when you tweet you can see that tweet on the table until new tweets replace it. We can basically connect to any online service, whether it is your website or anything that supplies media. Facebook as well, even though it gets a little complex because you have to be logged in through someone’s account. In general, we are certainly exploring bringing live media into the store.

MBF: Can you tell us what retailers and brands you are working with?

JS: We’ve done quite a bit of work with Cole Haan. We worked with Kiehl’s several months ago. We’ve done a lot of work with Story, which is a great boutique/store on the Westside near the highline. They change their whole storefront every month so we generally create a new purchase layout for them with each passing month. We are talking to a lot of retailers and brands — I just can’t say which ones yet...

MBF: What was your experience when you first introduced Perch to potential clients? And what are the stumbling blocks?

JS: The responses mostly have been very positive! For the most part when people see Perch, especially in person, they are excited by it. It’s really easy to then instantly think how they can use it in-house with all the media they already have. With any client work there’s always a lot of going back and forth in terms of what the intentions are for the designers verses what the clients want, you always have to find a happy medium between the two. We had some stumbling blocks early on just in terms of getting our technology together, but at this point everything is good to go.

MBF:  How do you market your product? And how do you reach out to get new clients on board?

JS: We’ve been really fortunate for getting some really good press out there. We also have a lot of people come who have seen us on the web and decided to visit. The fact that we are in New York really helps us also to reach a variety of stores. There hasn’t been a whole lot of direct sales yet, it has been just you know, people come in and we do whatever we can to support them.

MBF: Is there anybody out there that has similar technology or you would consider as your competitor? If yes, how do you differentiate yourself from them?

JS: I think there are a lot of things out there that are in some ways similar to what we’re doing. Certainly there are digital signs out here, there are ipads in stores, and there are sensors tracking where people are moving in and out of the store, but liability there is quite high. As far as I know I think we’re the only ones who are looking at media directly around products and manipulations directed at the products. We also provide some tracking ability in that way. We are one of the only companies that can sense the interaction with the product itself. With Perch, you pick up the product and interact with it, there’s no way you can ignore what’s right in front of you.

MBF: Okay, this led me to the next question: you've mentioned your collecting analytics, what kind of data are you collecting as part of the interaction and how is this data used?

JS: Essentially what we’re responding to in an interactive perspective is tracking analytics. Every time you touch the product, pick the product up or even touch the table at all, we can track that data. It is reported on a daily basis, which tends to be how retailers like to see things—per product, per day. At the end of the day if there’s five products on the table you can see exactly how many times each was touched or picked up. The information is really useful for Perch itself, it shows how many people are using Perch and give us a clear sense of what it is like on a daily basis. In the long run I think what we will see is Perch being used in a training system. Retailers may develop some media and use Perch to see how people react to it. For the first time in stores, you can have two sets of identical products and the only difference is the slight change in media, so you can have celebrity A and celebrity B and see which one is more effective at encouraging people to touch or pick up the product.

MBF: What about the privacy of the data? The customers don’t really know that this data has been tracked?

JS: Sure, sure. All that we are tracking are just interactions with the product, we are not tracking identity, gender, or age—anything that can identify a person. From a privacy perspective, it's really not that different from the sales data that stores already have; if you buy a shoe, the store knows you bought that shoe. In actuality, the store probably has more information on you at that point—they have your credit card. But for Perch it is just looking at the product, there’s no personal information whatsoever.

video via Perch Interactive

MBF: Last but not least, where do you think the future of retail is going? How is it evolving from the beginning?

JS: Our specific goal is to begin to address the totality of the retail environment, so right now we’re dealing with horizontal surfaces such as a table of a certain size, and we’re working on a number of different factors to be able to address all kinds of different products. There is a natural form factor that exists within retail which is kind of the first step, beyond that I think what you’re going to see is…you talked about omni-channeling before and there’s a lot of talk about stores being the media space. Maybe right now if you are selling a certain shoe or fragrance it’s all about what goes well with that, maybe in the future, media will shift and it will be more about the story. Who doesn’t like a good story? You go to the store, understand the store and the products and make yourself feel better; make the company feel better about themselves. The narrative nature is explicit in shopping anyways: why do you shop in the first place? Why are you buying this accessory? There’s always a story there. It’s up to the brand to make one that relates to you and that takes a certain understanding to their customers. 

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