Coming Soon to a Retailer Near You: Custom Commercials

In 2005, retail technology executives predict targeted, customized commercials will be piped into dressing rooms, shopping carts and checkout lines.

Imagine the following scenario playing out at your favorite retail store.

You have been running all around town trying to prepare for an important formal banquet on January 11, 2005. After having worked with a sales associate at a major department store for an hour to select seven possible outfits, you lug them into a dressing room to see what might work.

Youre so preoccupied with juggling your possible purchases that you barely noticed the sales rep furiously clicking away on her PDA. To your surprise, the dressing room is three times larger than the ones you have become accustomed to.

As you start to try on the outfits, youre startled to see a commercial for formal banquet accessories. "A coincidence," you think. The next couple of commercials all show products that are just in your top three favorite colors, which you had mentioned to the floor associate.

You conclude that this is not a coincidence when the next spot promises that alterations can be completed by "your special day, January 11." Before you leave, the commercial is telling you that, as a valued customer for five years with ideal credit, you are eligible for a special discount.

Key retailers say they may be able to have such technology in stores by the end of 2005.

"Were talking customized video streaming into very elegant dressing rooms," said Mike Green, global vice president of retail at Sun Microsystems Inc. "These will be a really high-class sort, a very non-sales-oriented backdrop based on what the consumer is looking at or the customers history."

As Sun moves more aggressively into the retail segment, it is trying to help retailers use technology to move to the next level of customization. A key trend that Sun—and others, including Fujitsu Ltd.—want to focus on is attention span.

/zimages/2/28571.gifTo read about other retail IT trends expected for 2005, click here.

As more ads and messages are being thrust at consumers from cell phones, PDAs, billboards, watches, store public address systems and Web sites, consumers have become quite adept at tuning out. This is especially true as overly busy multi-tasking customers try to focus on their primary goal.

But those "dont bother me now" attitudes completely reverse when a consumer cant do anything else. When stuck in a traffic jam, getting dressed in a changing room or waiting on a checkout line, the theory holds, consumers are much more receptive to advertising, especially if its a little entertaining.

/zimages/2/28571.gifWill cell phones and PDAs be the next retail marketing tools? To find out, click here.

The technological foundation for all of this is the database. "You need to have a very well-laid-out database and customer loyalty program" with "everything that can possibly be known about that customer," Green said.

Retailers can deploy the technology in many ways, most likely choosing from a set of videos based on the associates knowledge of the customer. Ultimately, the system could make automatic choices based on either a loyalty card swipe or detection of certain kinds of clothes that would trigger certain videos.

Others are discussing customizing retail digital signage and enabling it to detect various kinds of customers approaching.

Piping more customized content directly into shopping carts is going to be a major trend for 2005, said Keith McNamara, a senior vice president for general merchandise and software operations at Fujitsu Transaction Solutions Inc.

Next Page: Video in checkout lines and shopping carts.