Displax and Optimus: Pushing Clicks & Bricks into 21st Century Retail
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Displax and Optimus: Pushing Clicks & Bricks into 21st Century Retail

In a dramatic approach to incorporating both clicks and bricks under a single rooftop, Optimus, a leading Portuguese telecom company opened a revolutionary retail concept store in Portugal where digital signage became the centerpiece of connecting customers to its brand and its products.

By Louis M. Brill

As retail moves into the 21st century, much has been made of e-commerce or the setting up of electronic stores on the Internet where home shopping is done via your living room or on the run with your smart phone.

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  • As much as e-commerce has come into its own as a shopping format and separates itself from a physical store, so is this comparison known as clicks and bricks as a choice of how customers relate to shopping in these modern times.

    Signage and advertising play an important part in both clicks and bricks shopping worlds, in both promoting brands and products, and letting customers learn about a product and buying it either in a store or on-line. In a dramatic approach to incorporating both clicks and bricks under a single rooftop, Optimus, a leading Portuguese telecommunications company opened a revolutionary retail concept store in Portugal where digital signage became the centerpiece of connecting customers to its brand and its products. They did so by incorporating single-touch screens and a media facade window as a way of enticing customers to their store and inspiring them to purchase the company's products.

    The creation of this interactive-based retail concept store involved many players including Rem Koolhaas (Rotterdam, Netherlands), a world renown architect, Kram / Weisshaar, an international design firm, DISPLAX, a leading edge interactive technology company, and Optimus, Telecommunications, the client, whose foresight and vision became the fuel that drove this project to its final click and brick and mortar creation.

    Casa Da Musica with futuristic retail
    To establish this concept store, Optimus chose to locate it at the Casa da Musica (Oporto, Portugal), which is a world class building and a monument to modern architecture. Designed by the prestigious Dutch architect Rem Koolhass, it was a building totally dedicated to music. Since it was a futuristic-looking building and music and culture is an important part of the Optimus brand, it was the perfect location. Thus it was in this building, on a first floor location that Optimus established their concept retail store. "The guideline for creating this store," said Pedro Fernandes, Chief Marketing Officer of DISPLAX (Braga, Portugal), "was to create a store that was innovative and futuristic and filled with one-of-a-kind displays that would give Optimus the most outstanding retail store in the world."

    Casa da Musica (Oporto, Portugul) with the Optimus concept store nested in at the base of the building.
    Photo Credit: DISPLAX

    To do this, Optimus's challenge to its store designers was that they wanted one central presentation space that would showcase all the Optimus products and services. They were looking for a way to introduce a new era of high-tech experiential shopping that would as Fernandes put it, "have a life of its own." It was at this point that DISPLAX entered the picture with their user-based interactive technologies and collaborated with Kram/Weisshaar to create The Experience Block, which was an interactive-based retail kiosk that integrated the store's physical space with an Internet shopping experience. It was of the likes of which has never been seen before, and truly looked like it came from some high-tech 22nd century futuristic mall. Although the Optimus store had many other interactive and dynamic features, limited space allows this discussion of only its main highlights.

    Interactive Retail: It's in the details
    The Experience Block was designed by Kram/Weisshaar (Stockholm, Sweden) and its interactive display modules by DISPLAX. The physical structure of The Experience Block was a huge rectangular concrete block, represented by over 70 LCD and plasma interactive displays. The best part of encountering The Experience Block was that it was designed to a mostly consumer, computer-literate audience that was already very conversant with iPhones and interactive touch screens. Thus, for first-time encounters with The Experience Block, its learning curve for its computer/Internet users was close to zero.

    The Experience Block, is an interactive-based retail kiosk that integrates the store's physical space with an Internet shopping experience that provides on-site access to a digital catalog of its various telecommunication offerings. In doing this, it creates a convergence between its on-line product fact sheets and its in-store product samples for customers to actually examine and test out.
    Photo Credit: DISPLAX

    The essence of DISPLAX's interactive technology was its use of a non-conductive thin-film polymer Nanowires grid technology with projected capacitive feedback. This process enabled the screen to transform into a point and touch display allowing the customer's fingers to detect and activate data points on the screen. In other words, to turn your finger into a mouse-cursor inteface.

    With a strong emphasis on interactive digital signage, Optimus has redefined and modernized the consumer's retail shopping experience by providing on-site access to a digital catalog of its various telecommunication offerings. In doing this, it creates a convergence between its on-line product fact sheets and its in-store product samples for customers to actually examine and test out. At the very least, it presents an evolving format from signs just being passive message presenters to now, interactive displays providing customers with self-selecting information screens on the products they want to learn about.

    Photo Credit: DISPLAX

    Armed with better product information, and a chance to review the actual product, it's more likely that these displays would create strong customer inspiration towards purchasing these products. Likewise because of all the digital activity through these displays, it also allows Optimus to track customer queries and develop product audits on preferred customers feature favorites and product sales as purchased through the Experience Block.

    What is important here is the scale of this interactive workspace, which was composed of 16-interactive retail product information providers. For the users who send The Experience Block technical queries, it acts like a sales concierge providing them with product information of several of Optimus media offerings including high definition digital television, internet services, downloadable music, music videos, ring tones and wallpapers and mobile phones.

    The Experience Block with its different interactive user portals established on both sides of the retail kiosk is able to assist at least up to 20 or more people at the same time, depending on how many people gather round an Experience portal. And finely there's no getting away from its coolness factor, it's like shopping on-line where you're drilling through a web site for information, but you're also in a store where in most cases you can see the product as a physical sample or talk to a sales rep for more specific information.

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    Experience block portals
    To better understand the Optimus Experience Block's interactive portals, below are some of the unique DISPLX interactive work stations:

    The Phone configurator is a touch screen interface that allows users to select phones based on various categories like price and other technical features. Clicking on one of the phones in the grid on the touch screen brings up detailed information about the phone.
    Photo Credit: DISPLAX

    The phone configurer
    Learning about cell phones, Optimus cell phone products are displayed both on the wall, and as a digital thumbnail representation. Look at the thumbnails, pick out the phone you want to learn about and touch the screen, and detailed information about the phone appears on the display screen.

    The Pharmacy consists of a long table over which a layer of glass is suspended. Removing one of the phones from its cradle on the lower table brings up detailed information on the phone onto the touch screen.
    Photo Credit: DISPLAX

    Cell phone pharmacy
    Allows customers to learn about cell phones first hand. Here a customer picks up the cell phone and places it on the glass top, which automatically brings up detailed text information about that telephone's different features and benefits.

    The TV Unit consists of 23 Flat-Panel displays simultaneously playing live Hi Definition TV content. The touch screen interfaces allow the user to select and control the content shown on each of the individual displays. The system can also display web content on the individual displays.
    Photo Credit: DISPLAX

    TV module
    The TV module consists of 23 Flat-Panel displays simultaneously playing live Hi-Def TV content. Two touch screen interfaces allow the user to select and control the content shown on each of the individual displays. The top interface is intended to control the upper half of the displays for adults and the lower interface is intended for use by children to control the lower half of television screens.

    The Wallpapers Unit consists of one tall, thin seamless vertical touch screen that allows the user to manipulate an immense collection of still image content.
    Photo Credit: DISPLAX

    Wallpaper's module
    The Wallpapers module consists of one tall, thin seamless vertical touch screen that includes a single, uninterrupted list of wallpapers, themes and screen savers that spans the entire vertical surface of the strip of touch screens. Users can manipulate an immense collection of still image content as to select as possible screen savers for their phones.

    Module ringtone
    The Ringtone Unit consists of two tall, thin seamless vertical touch screens that allow the user to manipulate an immense collection of Ringtone audio content. By clicking and dragging on the touch screen surface, the user is able to scroll the entire vertical list.

    MP3 module
    The MP3 Unit consists of two tall, thin seamless vertical touch screens that allow the user to manipulate an immense collection of music or audio book MP3 content. A single, uninterrupted list of song titles spans the entire vertical surface of the strip of touch screens.

    As a shopping experience, it's 'out of this world', with a new paradigm of retail sign displays that are interactive, and keyed directly to the products they are promoting. The Experience Block is representative of a new generation of displays categorized as 'smart signs.' Fernandes says, "not only are our interactive displays providing customers with appropriate product information, but doing so in fun and interesting ways of educating and guiding the customer towards purchases of their desired products."


    The INTERACTIVE FAÇADE turns on every night when the retail store closes. The entire front glass wall is covered in a dot pattern that functions both at night, as a projection surface and during the day, allows for transparent views of the interior space.
    Photo Credit: DISPLAX

    Microdot windows
    As a further enticement to draw customers in, another exciting part of the Optimus store design was its media facade look that played across the entire retail store window each night. As Fernandes stated, "Optimus gave us another big challenge by proposing their store front window be transparent during the day allowing passersby to see into the store, but at night they wanted the store windows to have some special look that would also attract people and draw them into the store."

    "To solve this challenge, DISPLAX developed a special thin film skin that was covered with thousands and thousands of light reflecting microdots. By day in ambient light the store windows appear transparent allowing sidewalk viewers to watch customers interacting with The Experience Block. At night, the microdots act as a projection screen allowing images to be displayed across the entire front window area of the store."

    Touch screens: The crown jewel of retail shopping
    As mobile phones have redefined the use of public and personal space so has the Optimus concept store redefined the retail sales experience as a new on-line/on-site shopping experience. Central to that experience is the in-store multi-touch screens which are becoming a new paradigm of interactive signage. As to the effectiveness of the new store's retail space Optimus has found that while the store opens at 9:00 AM, it sometimes has been known to close at 2:00 AM as a result of all the customer traffic to the store. Optimus loves the results and as such this store has become the crown jewel of their retail presence. And for Optimus customers; "it's mi casa tu casa."

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