Adidas previews interactive shopping wall

The digital shopping system will offer 4,000 Adidas shoes and gather data about customers

Adidas will begin deploying a futuristic digital shopping wall at select stores from next year. The Adiverse virtual footwear wall offers access to all Adidas products and can watch shoppers while they watch it.

"What we're trying to do is give consumers access to the widest range of products that we can possibly offer no matter the size of the store," said Chris Aubrey, Adidas' vice president of global retail, during a news conference at this week's Cebit IT fair in Germany. A prototype of the system is being demonstrated at the show by Intel, which worked with Adidas for 10 months on its development.

A typical shoe store for Adidas stocks around 200 shoes -- well short of the 4,000 offered by the company. The virtual wall will allow the entire range to be displayed on screen while offering more information than is typically displayed in-store.

It consists of four 46-inch, touch-sensitive flat-screen displays that fill a wall from floor to ceiling. Three columns of shoes are displayed on the screens in virtual wheels that can be spun around with the swipe of a hand. Shoes cascade pass the shopper with each swipe and individual shoes can be tapped and further examined. (See a video of the shopping wall in action on YouTube.)

Using data from 3D models of each shoe, shoppers can spin, twist, turn and enlarge computer representations of the footwear. Around 110 shoes are available in the system now, but the company plans to have all 4,000 scanned by the time the wall appears in stores.

An information panel alongside the shoe provides a brief description, the sizes that are available in-store and those available for delivery.

For some products a further window with marketing information appears. Select Adidas' F50 soccer shoe, for example, and snippets of information about the shoe appear, such as how well it scored during the last World Cup (it was the top-scoring shoe). A video of famous soccer players who wear it is also displayed.

Adidas has also tied social media into the system with messages about the shoes from Twitter and Facebook. Adidas will filter the comments for unsuitable content and language but won't suppress negative comments.

If a customer decides to buy a shoe, it can be ordered through the touchscreen system. A store employee will then either bring over the shoes or, if they are not in stock, use a tablet computer to enter payment and shipping information.

In addition to the additional sales it could generate, the system also provides customer data for stores.

Two small cameras mounted above the screen keep a constant watch on shoppers browsing the shoes and record basic information about the prospective shoppers.

"It can sense when you step up to the screen whether you're a male or female," said Chris O'Malley, director of retail marketing at Intel. That helps determine which shoes are presented on the screens to each customer, with roughly two-thirds of the shoes shown being targeted at the guessed gender of the shopper.

The same data would be supplied to Adidas and could be used to influence the type of shoes that are physically stocked in the store.

O'Malley stressed that the Intel system only collects basic data and doesn't capture any personal information.

"It could also provide demographic age data," he said. "It will also tell you how many people stood in front of the wall and how long they looked at the wall."

A future enhancement of the system will see a Kinect-like motion sensor mounted above the screens so shoppers won't have to physically touch the displays. This would enable them to be placed behind glass in a store window and to be manipulated by people passing the shop.

The system takes components of online shopping and melds them with a brick-and-mortar shopping experience, said O'Malley.

"There's still a lot of appeal to brick-and-mortar shopping," he said. "It actually gives you a reason to go into a store and shop at Adidas."

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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