Shop windows that have been turned into interactive displays are the latest way of grabbing passing shoppers’ attention. Joanna Perry goes to sample a couple in London’s West End

Touch me!” demands the window of one of Carphone Warehouse’s Oxford Street stores. Having passing shoppers putting their mitts on the glass isn’t something most retailers would encourage – have you seen how much window cleaners charge these days?

But, at Carphone Warehouse, a trial of an interactive window is taking place, using technology that turns the pane into a giant touchscreen. Round the corner, at the Orange store on Carnaby Street, there is a similar plea. In this case, a wave of your hand in front of the window brings up content on a large projector screen.

No one was using either screen on a Saturday night when Retail Week went down to take a look, but it was a warm evening and central London’s revellers clearly had other priorities. Both installations are producing positive results, according to the retailers.

The interactive window at Carphone Warehouse is a pilot of a bespoke system called Carphone Warehouse Vision, created by the Belfast-based company Origin Partners.

Origin Partners commercial director Jonathan Kelly explains how the trial came about. “We started talking to Carphone Warehouse in February last year. It was just speculative on our part; we thought the technology had legs for a large retailer, as once it is created it can be rolled out to many stores,” he says. “Carphone Warehouse knows how many people come into the store, and also has an idea of how many people come past the store. It wants to capture some of that passing traffic.”

After the deal for the pilot was signed in September, the system was rolled out at a Carphone Warehouse store on Oxford Street in the run-up to Christmas. Kelly admits both companies have been on a steep learning curve since then.

The interactive technology is made up of two projection systems and a 50-inch screen in the window. A special foil has been stuck to the glass of the window to effectively turn it into a touchscreen, which operates the display behind it.

Kelly explains: “You can use a projector or an LCD screen in a window running off a PC. The magic is the foil that is used on the window.”

While the hardware has been available for several years, there is still much work to be done to refine the user interface and tailor the content to make it relevant and appealing to consumers on the street. Kelly says that a lot of time was invested in the “spinning” menus, for instance. The developers looked at other popular user interfaces, such as the operating system for Apple computers and Radio One’s web site. “The application is 100 per cent bespoke to Carphone Warehouse,” he says. “We said that we would create something that would work for them.”

The interfaces have all been designed specifically with the touchscreen in mind. Kelly says the developers took note of the poor user experience offered by some early kiosks – where often the user was not sure whether touching the screen was having any effect. He says: “It is important that the user knows that they have touched it.”

The focus of the content is on the products and services that Carphone Warehouse has branched out into, such as broadband, the Geek Squad technology support service and selling iPhones.

Kelly adds that a lot of the content has been repurposed from elsewhere. For instance, text and images have been taken from other media, such as Carphone Warehouse’s web site. Other content – such as short videos – has been adapted to make it relevant to where it will be viewed.

Windows of opportunity

Carphone Warehouse has chosen to put the system on a timer that turns the software on at 7am and off at 11pm. Kelly says the thinking behind this is that people can use the touchscreen when the store is closed, but that after 11pm you probably wouldn’t want people to be using the system.

He admits there has been only mixed success when it comes to capturing consumer data through the window. The system records every time someone touches the screen – every page impression, and the sections and products that consumers view. The iPhone and the BlackBerry have been the most popular products to date. However, when it comes to taking things a step further and getting consumers to input personal information or request more details, the response has been muted. Kelly explains: “They can sign up for a call-back about services advertised, but people have not been keen to pass information on themselves through the window.”

He thinks that consumers’ reticence to reveal their personal details in such a public place could be overcome if they thought they could get something out of it. “It may be better to use the window to run competitions. It could be used as part of a customer relationship management tool through which you could build a database.”

He adds that Origin Partners tries to tie its systems into its customers’ back-office databases where possible, so information is automatically updated on screens and does not have to re-keyed. He says this integration has already proved a success in estate agencies.

No pane, no gain

To use the interactive screen at the nearby Orange store, consumers do not even need to touch the window. The system picks up on hand gestures, so users can wave in front of the projector screen to interact with it.

In this case, the window is activated when the store is closed and is less focused on product advertising. Instead it profiles content from the company’s Orange World mobile portal, such as news, games, music videos and film trailers. The idea is to profile the content that Orange customers are able to access on their mobile phone.

At the time it was launched late last year, Orange UK director of brand marketing Justin Billingsley said the company hoped to install interactive windows in other similarly busy sites across the UK.

Retail Week caught up with Orange for an update. A company spokeswoman says: “Video-based content is proving very popular with passers-by engaging in music, film and mobile TV. Most sessions are carried out by groups of three to six people.

“Having the window operating when the store is closed, Orange is delivering rich content and information to consumers 24 hours a day. The window proves popular every evening and there is a slight increase in usage from Thursday to Sunday.”

Orange has measured the success of the system by assessing factors including customer engagement with the window, awareness of the product and services featured and the number of sessions elapsed. The spokeswoman adds: “Response from customers has been very positive so far – they are intrigued by the technology and the content.”

At Carphone Warehouse, the data captured is being used to work out whether the concept of interactive windows really has legs. If it does, then, in the long term, the data generated will help drive further development of the application and the content it is populated with.

Other applications are still being considered. For instance, Carphone Warehouse’s in-store staff use a mobile tariff-checker to create a list of suitable packages for a customer’s requirements. Kelly says that this could be extended to the interactive window to help customers work out what they want before they come inside.

The Carphone Warehouse window has been in place for four months and Kelly believes that, by the time it has been in place for a couple more, the results of the pilot should be clear. If it is deemed a success, it would be straightforward to roll the system out further.

One system can be used to manage many windows displaying the same content. If content is regionalised, multiple versions of the system will be needed. Kelly adds: “The vision would be to have one person at Carphone Warehouse to control all its windows.”

As well as being able to roll the system out to windows in other stores, the same application could be used to run touchscreens within the store, or at a special event.

Mobile phone retailers in London are starting to face competition from brands such as Sony Ericsson and Nokia, which are moving in with their own high-tech and high-experience stores. These windows might not create many direct sales, but they bring a little retail theatre to the high street – literally.