October 28, 2019 by Brad Grimes

IRDC panelWhen customers walk into the new Under Armour flagship store in Tokyo’s vibrant Shinjuku district, they’d be hard-pressed to miss the audiovisual experience created to draw them in. And that’s by design.

“It starts at the beginning of the store and takes you all the way through the first floor and up the back wall,” explained Sharon Lessard, Under Armour’s Senior Director of Global Store Design and Development.

The building’s façade features a large, fine-pitch, Times Square-style LED display. Upon entering, beneath a low ceiling, video projection systems create a lighted runway, which leads people into a large atrium and flows seamlessly into a giant LED videowall.

“It’s all very intentional,” Lessard continued. “This is a busy part of Tokyo, right at the subway, so how do you stop people as they’re walking by? Our intention from the very beginning was to have a very large digital presence on the exterior—brand storytelling, digital movement, drawing people in. From there, the runway idea — that digital experience — was a priority.” [Watch a video of Under Armour’s Shinjuku store.]

Lessard discussed the thinking behind Under Armour’s Shinjuku store at the 2019 International Retail Design Conference (IRDC), during a panel about audiovisual design in retail, moderated by AVIXA. She was joined by Kathleen Jordan, Principal at Gensler, and Andrew Lazarow, Designer and AV Technologist at ESI Design.

“It’s very dynamic,” Lessard said of the Under Armour location, “and it’s informing how we’re going to take digital into our smaller formats.”

According to AVIXA’s Market Opportunity and Analysis Report (MOAR), retailers continue to invest in brick-and-mortar stores, and a growing share are committing more of that spend to audiovisual solutions. Overall construction data indicates 6 to 7 percent of spending goes to AV technology. In the retail space, AVIXA researchers found that one-third of brands would spend 6 to 10 percent of their capital budgets on AV, and whopping 30 percent had earmarked 10 percent or more for AV technology.

“When I first entered the profession, the biggest thing was handicap-accessible fitting rooms. Now it’s how to integrate digital technology,” Jordan told the conference. The two trends are similar, she explained, because each is a modern-day requirement, and each takes money, space, and resources. “And what does it do to other systems in the project?” Jordan asked aloud. “How does it affect the budget? What players do you have to bring to the table?”

Equally important to creating audiovisual experiences in retail, Lazarow added, is asking “What do you want people to feel? What do you want them to take away? How do you build that connection?”

For Lessard and Under Armour, the connection is made through movement. Under Armour is a performance apparel brand, not necessarily a fashion-forward brand you might see on traditional runways. “It’s really about making you perform better, so how do we use digital movement to make you understand what the products can do for you?”

Collaboration among retail brands, designers, and AV technologists is critical to achieving the right experience, the panel agreed — and the earlier the better for all involved. Gensler’s Jordan described working on a new retail project when suddenly the client voiced interest in adding an AV experience.

“They really don’t know what. They hadn’t factored it into the budget. We’re in schematic design and they think maybe they want to have a ‘wow,’” she said. Although it might have been better to have the conversation even earlier, Jordan said, so that a creative team could explore all options, it was still early enough for Gensler to propose several ideas.

“The stakeholder group is growing and there are really good collaborators out there,” Lazarow said. “The brands understand how important it is to make every touchpoint speak together, and so they're bringing us on earlier.”

ESI Design, which has created stunning LED ceiling displays for the 900 North Michigan Shops in Chicago and immersive AV experiences for the Comcast Studio Xfinity flagship, always starts with the story each brand wants to tell and applies the most appropriate technology. Sometimes, the technology deployment impacts the space, or vice versa.

“We like to do a lot of projection where we embed [technology] in the ceiling, the main reason being when you turn the projector off, you have a gorgeous wall that’s still an interesting space,” Lazarow explained. But doing so takes planning, time, and testing.

And the work doesn’t end when the store opens, said Under Armour’s Lessard. “The second-most critical question after ‘What’s your strategy?’ is ‘How are you going to maintain it?’

“You've just spent an awful lot of money developing this whole concept around a digital experience and the content on day one is fabulous, but what does the content look like on day 60? You have to have all of those partners advocating for it, supporting it — co-creating it.”

At the time Lessard addressed the IRDC audience, the Shinjuku Under Armour store had only been open a couple weeks, but a program was in place to refresh the content and sustain the AV experience. “That’s just as critical as the project [itself],” she said.

About Brad Grimes

Brad Grimes is Editor at Large for AVIXA and the former editor of Pro AV magazine. He has been writing about technology for more than 25 years.