NYC transit all aboard with digital signage

Nov. 15, 2013

The MTA is embracing digital signage and interactive technologies in a big way.

The New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority sees digital signage as a doorway to opportunities for both improving their customers' transit experience and increasing the city government organization's revenues without increasing fare costs.

The most recent example of the MTA's embrace of digital signage and interactive technologies saw cosmetics brand L'Oreal recently roll out an interactive digital signage kiosk in the New York City subway system.

The L'Oreal kiosk follows the pilot rollout of the MTA's On the Go! Travel Station digital signage wayfinding kiosks and the activation of the 20-plus digital signage screens in the Penn Station Digital Network.

"The MTA is looking to incorporate digital signage into a lot of the things that we do, whether it's customer information, whether it's retail or anything else," MTA Senior Director of Corporate and Internal Communications Paul Fleuranges said in a recent interview. "We're looking to improve our technology footprint in ways that provide amenities to our customers, improve the transportation environment and if possible raise additional non-fare box revenue so we don't have to keep going to the customer for that increased revenue."

The recent L'Oreal Paris Intelligent Color Experience in the Bryant Park subway station features an LOreal kioskinteractive display screen that detects the colors in a person's outfit, then picks out the most prominent and related color palettes to recommend matching L'Oreal Paris products, and finally allows them to purchase those products on the spot.

The kiosk was developed by digital agency R/GA and is part of a partnership with R/GA and CBS Outdoor. L'Oreal Paris was chosen as the inaugural brand to participate in the two-month program.

"We are proud to continue L'Oreal Paris' digital leadership by being the first brand to bring women a highly customized and convenient way to shop beauty in a place they would least expect it — the New York City subway," L'Oreal USA CMO Marc Speichert said in an announcement of the project. "It marks the latest 'stop' in our unparalleled quest to combine the latest in technology with the highest in quality to help every woman embrace her unique beauty."

"The MTA is very pleased to see a brand like L'Oreal Paris out in front of the emerging virtual shopping trends that promises to blur the lines between traditional outdoor advertising, traditional bricks and mortar retail and e-tailing," MTA Director of Real Estate Jeffrey Rosen said in the same announcement. "The MTA and our advertising contractor, CBS Outdoor, will be watching this program closely to see if it can be replicated and scaled up within the MTA network. As the advertising industry continues to test and demonstrate new ways to reach consumers in high-traffic environments, we're happy to facilitate such experimentation within our system."

The kiosk is evidence that companies and brands want to be in the subway system, Fleuranges said. The MTA's advertising contract for the subway brings in more than $60 million a year, so brands are starting to realize they can do more than advertise in the system, but can actually reach out to and sell to MTA's customers, he said.

"We've been trying to figure out a way to improve the customer environment for several years," he said. "One of the things we rolled out? Countdown clocks. People love countdown clocks. They have a better satisfaction level with the subway system at stations that have countdown clocks. So we're trying to figure out a way to make investments in technology that improve the customer environment and provide some sort of customer amenity."

L'Oreal clearly wanted to tap into that market, he said, and that project represents a first foray into what could be more explorations of either pop-up retail or interactive digital signage and retail.

"We're just trying out a new form of retail that we've never done in the system before," Fleuranges said. "And we love the fact that people think that the MTA, the subway system [and] the rail system is a place where you can test cool technology."

Fleuranges confirmed that there is a definite trend toward the MTA adopting newer technologies. The city's "Urban Panels" (digital signage screens above subway entrances around the city) came in handy during last year's Hurricane Sandy emergency, he said, showing that the technology has uses beyond revenue generation and branding.

"We put up information on the Urban Panels before Sandy, during Sandy and after Sandy," to give people the details necessary to make informed travel decisions, he said. "It gave us for the first time the ability to reach that one-to-many with serious and important information that they were looking for, and we hope that with On the Go! we can do the same sort of thing, communicate down to the kiosk level so that people can make that decision."

And Fleuranges said he couldn't see why the MTA would stop experimenting with digital signage anytime soon. MTA has underperforming real estate assets that it would like to find new revenue-generating models for, whether it's for retail or for branding, he said.

Any new technology the system can add that provides passenger amenities and improves the customer experience while also helping raise additional non-fare box revenue "checks off a lot of boxes for us," he said. "And that'll be a win for us if we can make it happen. It has to be the right brand, but with digital signage changing and evolving over time, you can see that the technology is there.

"We'd love to see other people come in and show us different ways that people want to buy," he added. "We know that in other parts of the world, in Asia, in Europe, there are people who go to rail stations and order their groceries on a touchscreen and get them delivered at home. Why can't they do that here?"

Learn more about digital signage trends.

Topics: Customer Experience , DOOH Advertising , Retail , Trends / Statistics , Wayfinding

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