The new fabrics, cuts, and stlyes that J.C. Penney was introducing weren't being well received by shoppers. In talking with customers, one of the largest failings both with online shopping and traditional mannequins was not clearly understanding how these new fabrics would move when on a body. They wanted to know what to expect and to feel confident that the clothes would be flattering to their body.
As a retailer, J.C. Penney maintains a stock that far exceeds the display space they have in stores. One of the largest non-customer facing tasks is having the in-store associates "set" the store - update the various mannequins and displays in order to continually rotate mechandise and highlight seasonal offerings. Digitizing mannequins in key areas allowed for a more consistent customer experience, reduced time spent dressing mannequins, and enabled the fashion teams to clearly articulate their vision for a given season.
When Ron Johnson joined J.C. Penney as CEO, he had a vision to modernize the shopping experience. The team I was on had already worked to extend the wide array of items available through jcp.com to the in-store experience and we were asked to come up with new and exciting ways to enrich shopping for our customers.
To begin, we worked with a customer research firm to understand what the unmet needs of the average J.C. Penney shopper were. We leveraged both in-depth interviews and in-store observations to gather insights to what areas would benefit from our focus. One of the patterns that quickly emerged was shoppers, primarily women, picking up a garment and moving it both on the hanger and while holding it up to their body. When we asked shoppers why they were doing this, we learned that they were concerned with how the clothes would move and drape and before taking the time to try anything on they had a bar that the clothes needed to clear.
I had already prototyped a digital mannequin that leveraged a Microsoft Kinect to track gaze and highlight related products based on what part of an outfit a shopper was looking at. If they focused on the shoes, both information on where to find those specific shoes, as well as recommendations for other outfits that matched those shoes would display. These digital mannequins were static, but I thought there could be opportunity to bring them to life in the store to allow for shoppers to see how the clothes moved on real people.
In a partnership with the in-house video studio and the buyers for men's and women's trends, I proposed a virtual mannequin concept that would bring a digital space in to the physical store. Using three large, vertically mounted monitors, we could have models wearing key items for a given section walk and interact between the monitors. These videos would have key beats where item names and price points could dynamically be overlaid. The concept also allowed for timed "events" where the models could dance in sync with the in-store music, with the goal being to engage shoppers and entice them to enter the various departments.