Gear Case delivers vivid storytelling – and a touch of magic – to retail environments.
Touchscreens in retail displays have become common, but they have a problem: when shoppers are at a screen, the product isn’t at hand, and when they’re with the product, the screen is someplace else. There’s no shortage of screens and merchandise screaming for attention in most stores today, either. We recombined the usual suspects into a new, interactive solution that grabs eyeballs: the adidas Gear Case. It’s a transparent touchscreen fitted into a portable retail display, or mounted in-wall, with real product inside. The newest adidas sneakers, interactive product information, full-motion campaign graphics and video all add up to something customers can’t keep their hands off. The Gear Case is motion sensitive, so it flashes to life from a low-energy screensaver loop whenever someone gets close. Designed to thrive in everyday retail environments, like adidas shop-in-shops at Dick’s Sporting Goods and the Finish Line, the Gear Case is extremely rugged and dead simple to boot and use. After a year and a half in the field, and eight campaign swaps, all 18 prototype units in 15 cities across the country are still working flawlessly. The Gear Case updates automatically from a flash drive, and can also connect wirelessly, depending on in-store conditions. We’ve been tracking analytics with off-the-shelf Google software, and the numbers are adding up: 80,000 total screen views, with an average engagement time of 2 minutes, as of late spring 2014. With potential applications far beyond sporting goods, the Gear Case is actually a whole new platform for truly interactive digital storytelling at retail.
Why is this project worthy of a UX Award:
Taken one by one, the components that make up a Gear Case aren’t particularly groundbreaking, but the way they’re used in combination is a real advance. The transparent Planar LCD seems like the hero technology, but supporting hardware and software really bring the Gear Case to life. A proximity sensor – which toggles the unit between “attract” and “engaged” interaction modes – uses a sonic range finder, C/C++ code and hand-fabricated Arduino components. Motion graphics, including seamlessly integrated, layered transparent videos, are created with Adobe After Effects. Adobe AIR integrates everything, providing support for user input via the infrared touch frame, and also tracking and dispatching analytics. Several Gear Case units also use a 4G LTE modem and military grade antenna to provide internet access when not available (or reliable) locally. We stress-tested each CPU and applied over 70 custom configurations for security, auto startup, auto shutdown and remote administration. Onsite, a power source with a single open plug is all that’s required to get started. The Gear Case is designed to tolerate power being ungracefully cut off at the end of retail day, while booting right back up when the plug is replaced in the morning. Physical and digital campaign content updates were designed to be performed by non-technical store employees. A key learning from our process is the value of starting small, and then grow the platform incrementally, ensuring robustness as features are added one by one. We started with just a few Gear Case prototypes and tested their hardware and software relentlessly for potential misuse and abuse before releasing them into the wild. adidas is preparing to fabricate dozens more Gear Cases before the end of the year, and never would have green-lighted scaling up if the first few had performance issues or malfunctions.