eBay Gets Physical With A Street-Side Sales Kiosk For Kate Spade Saturday

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On the heels of eBay CEO John Donahoe’s statement at TC Disrupt in April that the company would be using mobile technology to push further into offline commerce, eBay’s Retail Innovation team unveiled its second project: four pop-up storefronts created for the fashion line Kate Spade Saturday that will be live from June 8 to July 7. Using a touch screen on the store window, shoppers can select a product and schedule one-hour delivery via text message.

The Kate Spade Saturday storefronts are something like a cross between a billboard and a vending machine, with a large touch screen built into the glass. They’re built to be noticed: the brick facade is painted a vivid yellow, and the DynaScan monitor on the touch screen, which is bright enough to compete with sunlight, is a total attention-grabber at night. And they’re noisy. Bells and lights go off at intervals to grab the attention of passers by.

A shopper steps up to the touch screen on the store window and navigates through the products available, which are on display behind the glass. If she wants to buy, she enters her cell phone number and receives a text asking to schedule delivery. In one hour (the promised time), a courier drops off the purchase and takes the payment through PayPal.

The touch technology, mobile, warehouse logistics, delivery, and mobile payments — that’s all eBay. The bags and jackets, obviously, are Kate’s.

It’s a cute shopping experience, if you’re into acting as a very public poster girl for the Kate Spade Saturday experience. The gimmick of stepping up to the plate and picking out a dress won’t form a local fan base of repeat buyers, but that’s not the point. It’s fun, you’ll do it once, and you’ll walk away feeling like Kate Spade Saturday gets your life… at least that’s what the brand is trying to do with this fairly obvious ploy to grab the casual shopper.

Kate Spade Saturday launched in March as an online-only business in the US (they have four stores in Japan). There is clearly a point to having their first American brick and mortar installation be such an expensive, circus-like show of screens: it wants to leave a good first impression of tech-savviness.

The fact that only 30 items are available for sale, a fraction of what shoppers can choose from online, makes the purchase much more symbolic. It’s not really about getting a great product — if it were, you would have the option to look through the entire stock to make sure you got the one you liked best — but rather about buying into a tech service show. This is a proof of concept and an effort by a traditionally low-tech industry – fashion – to dip a toe into something a little more electronic.

Keep in mind that parent company 5th & Pacific Cos Inc is going to be focusing a lot of effort this year on Kate Spade, now its biggest brand. Reuters reported on May 2 that 5th & Pacific’s net loss in the first quarter narrowed to $52.2 million from $60.6 million the previous year, largely because Kate Spade sales rose 63.1% to $141 million (Juicy Couture, also a major 5th & Pacific line, reported sales down 10.7% at $98 million).

eBay, for its part, is looking to get in on brick and mortar sales by showing retailers that they can incorporate technology into the in-store experience. TC reported in October that eBay would be focusing more on mobile, personalization, and PayPal, all of which fit in with the shoppable storefront concept.

Retail Innovation’s first project with Toys ‘R’ Us used an in-store touch screen as a search bar and a filtered gift finder, both of which led to a search results page of products in stock, sorted by what’s selling the best. It then gave users a map that they could push from the screen to their phone using a QR code, coupons included.

Of course, it’s not all about the customer. EBay’s head of Retail Innovation Healey Cypher said that these customer engagement tools function as a heat map: they can tell Toys ‘R’ Us where their customers are moving after they’ve left the screen and what they’re buying. Tracking shoppers’ behavior feeds in to the “personalization” prong of eBay’s plan. They can also create a picture of the “Kate Spade Saturday” shopper by filming the shoppers as they check out. Cameras in the glass (just above head level and very visible) record the sidewalk traffic.

“We know how many people are walking by, and of those people who turn up square and look at the glass, that’s a CPM. That’s an impression. Then if they touch it it’s a CPC. But then also the time that it takes to do these things, what happens between them, catalysts that get them to engage. If they buy it and schedule for delivery,” eBay’s Cypher said. “When in the history of retail has a retailer ever had info about what’s happening outside their walls, before transaction?”

In the end, this is a gimmick – but with a serious purpose. EBay knows it can’t cater to Beanie Baby fans and scammers forever and PayPal is up against plenty of real-world payment systems. By making these strategic partnerships they can, in the end, break out of the online and into the real.