The Monday before Thanksgiving this year, Saks Fifth Avenue's flagship store in New York City will come alive with the unveiling of its iconic holiday windows and the debut of its "Snowflake Spectacular," a projection mapping light show on the façade of the building.
The store's special relationship with the holidays and its tradition of window displays give it an almost unique brand equity at the holiday season, but this embrace of interactive technology could also be a harbinger of the future, according to digital signage and retail experts.
For the first time ever, according to an announcement from Saks, the six animated Fifth Avenue windows will feature the story of "the legendary Yeti, who is rumored to live on the Saks Fifth Avenue roof, making snow during the holiday season." Each window features a scene from "The Yeti Story" — "from the Yeti's life as an under-appreciated snowmaker in Siberia to his starring role as a true snowflake artist in New York," the announcement said.
"It gives every one of us at Saks Fifth Avenue great joy to share our iconic holiday windows with the city of New York," Richard Baker, governor and CEO of Hudson's Bay Co., parent of Saks Fifth Avenue, said in the announcement. "The window unveiling is the official start to the holiday season here at Saks, and I am honored to carry the tradition forward with this celebration. Everyone — from resident New Yorkers to tourists — will be dazzled by this year's display."
Among the holiday display windows is an interactive digital signage display window, created in collaboration with MasterCard, that gives viewers a chance to be an active participant in the celebration, the retailer said. Starting on that first night, guests who visit saks.com/snow will be able to create their own personal Yeti name and snowflake, which can be "flicked" from a phone or tablet onto digital displays in the windows.
Other Fifth Avenue windows will feature blueprint architectural drawings of specially designed snowflakes that have become synonymous with the holidays at Saks Fifth Avenue and a special Cadillac display. The "Frozen Escalade" features the front clip of a White Diamond 2015 Escalade — a limited edition model offered exclusively to Saks customers. The display's vehicle will have functioning LED running lamps, which appear to be embedded and breaking through a block of ice.
Because Saks — much like Macy's — has "an almost unmatched brand equity with regard to the holiday," the retailer can leverage its strong brand to connect retail with the holiday season, Digital Screenmedia Association Executive Director Paul Flanigan, who also previously managed the $5 billion in-store digital multimedia network for Best Buy, said in an email.
"Because of that, the brand as a whole is strengthened, and experiences like these fall as much under marketing for the brand as they would under the holiday campaign," he said. "However, there is also an expectation by the public outside the store that Saks should do something like this, because it breathes life into the community — the vicinity outside the store. So it serves two purposes: to inspire people out and about that the holiday season is upon us, and to encourage people who are shopping to come in and enjoy the experience even further."
And in terms of encouraging passersby to come into the store, these types of displays serve as a kind of calling card for the in-store experience that awaits them, Flanigan said.
"Saks, along with other major retailers, must always be careful not to lose that connection," he said. "They can inspire people who want more, but run the risk of losing that emotion if the experience outside the store does not continue once the customer has gone through the doors."
In another way, "retail futurist" and author Doug Stephens, a retail consultant and the founder of Retail Prophet, said these kinds of experiential displays are potentially indicative of a bigger shift in the retail world.
"The bottom line I think is that we're gradually seeing the death of the store as a place that distributes products and instead becoming a place that distributes experiences," he said in an email. "Consumers will increasingly expect retail experiences that they can actually engage in, physically and emotionally and be a part of and not just passive window-shoppers."
Along the way to that future, retailers will engage in implementations that are more gimmicky or whimsical, he said, but there also will be installations with truly practical applications that help to sell products, such as the Karl Lagerfeld virtual store launch last year.
"Retailers that don't recognize the need to raise the bar in a quantum way with respect to every aspect of their store experience are going to have a very difficult road ahead," he said.
And even that fits in with the bigger trend in technology that Flanigan sees on the horizon.
"In the end, what we are seeing is the embrace of digital technology as more than just a mechanism for delivering information," Flanigan said. "We're seeing digital technology embraced by brands of all kinds as an aesthetic experience. Would we expect Saks to just hang a screen in the store window?"
Watch a video of last year's "Snowflake Spectacular" projection display below:
Learn more about retail digital signage.
Cover image courtesy of Hsuyo.