image of macy's digital fragrance bar
In June 2019, Macy's — partnered with digital display firm Perch — installed digital fragrance bars at 34 locations across the United States. — Macy's

At the Macy’s in downtown Brooklyn, a shopper can pick up a bottle of Tory Burch Bel Azur perfume, take a sniff, and instantly see a digital screen light up with information about the scent — top notes, bergamot; middle notes, neroli; base notes, vetiver — as well as customer reviews, other fragrance suggestions and a checkout code.

Just as a perfumer mixed scents to make Bel Azur, Macy’s is trying to create the perfect blend of online and in-store shopping experiences with its newest tech innovation.

Macy’s and its partner, digital display firm Perch, installed interactive Fragrance Bar counters in Brooklyn and at 33 other Macy’s locations across the country at the end of June.

Macy’s efforts reflect a broader move by brands to enhance the in-store experience with shopping conveniences typically associated with e-commerce, like having troves of product data at one’s fingertips.

Macy’s is hoping the marriage of physical and digital will give its customers “an in-store display that mirrors what they love about shopping online,” Mara Sirhal, vice president, divisional business manager for fragrance at Macy’s, told CO—.

The Fragrance Bars are one of several digital innovations the nation’s largest department store chain is investing in to stay relevant and to better connect with customers.

It has brought augmented reality into the beauty aisles, giving shoppers the ability to virtually test and try on lipsticks and cosmetics in-store and on the Macy’s app.

Last year the retailer announced it had joined tech firm Marxent to introduce a virtual reality experience for furniture shoppers at 70 of its stores. Customers wear headsets to create virtual rooms and see how a new couch or recliner would look in their living rooms.

A test of that technology in three pilot stores was credited with boosting furniture sales by more than 60%, and decreasing returns to less than 2%, according to a Macy’s announcement in October 2018.

Screens are the new sales assistants. Consumers who are hesitant to approach a clerk, unsure of whom to trust, or simply unable to find someone to ask for help routinely check their phones for information about products and pricing.

Susan Scafidi, founder and academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University

Get Store Savvy

Macy's new fragrance bars bring the convenience of online shopping to the in-store experience. Still unsure if you should combine your digital business with brick-and-mortar? Read more here.

Stoking ‘self-discovery’

While the Fragrance Bar launch is too new to gauge sales results, Sirhal said shoppers are responding positively to the displays. Customers like them, she said, “because it allows them to explore our fragrance assortment in one easy location,” and also gives them “the freedom to shop how they prefer.”

“This approachable format encourages self-discovery and engages our existing customers in a new way, while also drawing in new customers,” Sirhal said.

At the Fragrance Bars, customers can sample 30 different perfumes by different brands, grouped into six different scent categories, by selecting a perfume bottle and interacting with a digital screen.

Online shoppers typically shop for fragrance by scent, searching for floral, citrus, and other categories, while in-store shoppers traditionally shop by brand, Sirhal said.

The fragrances in the displays will be changed quarterly.

The Fragrance Bar, by grouping brands together and encouraging shoppers to browse by scent, not brand, is a departure from the standard department store layout, where brands are kept separate on dedicated counters.

Smart shelves connected to digital screens that offer information or videos when a customer picks up a product are one way stores are seeking to bridge the online and in-store gap.

"Screens are the new sales assistants," said Susan Scafidi, founder and academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University. "Consumers who are hesitant to approach a clerk, unsure of whom to trust, or simply unable to find someone to ask for help routinely check their phones for information about products and pricing,” she said.

Scafidi called the Fragrance Bars a smart move by Macy’s “to redirect attention to the product at hand, in essence controlling what comes up first in the customer's search results.” The store location provides the added benefit of “the instant gratification of an in-person sale," she said.

Scafidi sees fragrance counters as a particularly good choice for this blend of online and in-store shopping, because perfume frequently is purchased as a gift "and the array of glass bottles and strong scents can be overwhelming,” she said.

”[Men] may be more comfortable tapping a screen than sniffing their wrists," she said.

 macy's digital fragrance bar
The mission behind Macy's new digital fragrance bars stems from wanting to marry the in-store experience with the conveniences that come along with shopping online. — Macy's

The interactive-display play

Retailers increasingly are turning to interactive displays, although there is little hard data yet on the return on investment.

A July report by retail technology consulting firm Retail Systems Research found that one in two retailers have some type of interactive display in their stores, up from one in four a year earlier. The report, however, questions whether simply providing more digital content in stores is the best long-term solution.

“Consumers are rapidly training themselves to solve every problem on their own,” Retail Systems Research Managing Partner Steve Rowen commented in the report. The danger Rowen sees is that by mimicking the online experience stores miss chances to connect with customers. “The more retailers provide the chance to self-serve, the less reason shoppers have to engage with a brand,” Rowen said.

Perch, Macy’s partner in the Fragrance Bars, has created displays for Kate Spade, Cover Girl, whiskey and spirits seller Beam Suntory and dozens of other brands.

“Digital media consumption is at all-time highs and shoppers are demanding a blend of digital and physical experiences now, and will increasingly demand more in the future,” said Perch CEO Trevor Sumner.

The digital displays, Sumner said, tell retailers what customers are picking up, touching, and researching, in addition to giving shoppers product information.

Interactive retail displays, Sumner said, have the power to bring “all of the digital marketing competencies we see in online e-commerce optimization into the physical store.”

That means, he said, tapping “sophisticated systems to understand shoppers and their behavior, target shoppers with the right message at the right time, and provide data insights in how to make the shopping experience more compelling and enjoyable.”

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