I was on my way to a meeting in the city today and cut through Rockafeller Center which normally avoid because you always have to dodge slow moving, camera toting tourists. On the far side of the plaza I went by the NBC Experience Store and what I saw in the window made me do something I never do walking through the city – stop and take notice of a retail store window. Bravo was using the window to promote the upcoming season of Top Chef that will take place in Las Vegas. In keeping with the Sin City theme they had two slot machines displayed on two large screens with the twist that they actually worked and even gave out prizes up to $5,000 when you spun the reels by sending them a text message. Admittedly a little self conscious of looking like a tourist I took out my iPhone, sent the message and watched the machine spin to life. I have to admit it was fun. In the minute it took me to send the text a few other people stopped to see what I was doing and after I was done they did the same thing. I stood there for about 15 minutes watching a near constant flow of these small crowds gather around new people who would stop and take turns trying the experience. When prizes were awarded the message was a generic ‘we have a winner’ which I thought was smart as it showed people winning without giving away the quality of the prize which was probably marginal but I didn’t win so I don’t know for sure.
It was almost a year to the day since I last wrote about this type of fusion between technology and retail displays with the Ralph Lauren store windows that were outfitted with QR codes to let consumers buy the outfits in the window right from their cell phone from the side walk in front of the store. While Ralph Lauren was focused on selling and this is more of a pure promotion I like the Top Chef execution for two reasons. First from a technical standpoint because it uses the widely adopted SMS texting instead of QR codes that require the download of special reader software. From an experience standpoint I like Top Chef because it has a low engagement barrier since it uses a popular technology that gives people the confidence to interact with the slot machines and that interaction is enough of a spectacle to create even more engagement from the spectators. I think if we could combine the sales focus of the QR codes with the higher consumer engagement of the SMS slot machines I think it could create a really powerful tool for brand exposure and to drive consumers off of the sidewalk and into stores. With budgets the way they are right now that execution will probably have to wait but I hope to see this trend of using technology to enhance brick and mortar retail continue.