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Innovative UK tech sounds out High Street

Friday May 10 2013

As the government puts its faith into high-profile reviews and projects designed to save the the country's retail centres, Retail Technology found out how invisible audio technology is doing its bit to help

While the retail industry closely follows central and local government efforts to reinvigorate ailing British High Streets, an innovative homegrown technology is already doing its bit to get shoppers back into stores.

FeONIC Technologies has most recently been working with John Lewis in Oxford Street and its sister flagship store, Peter Jones in Sloane Square, to turn its Samsung smart TV window display into an immersive experience using the medium of sound in conjunction with augmented reality technologies.

Philip Jarvis, FeONIC Technologies Group chief executive, explained: "Using sound might not be at the forefront of retailers' minds - particularly on the High Street, given that sound has traditionally been a difficult discipline to master, particularly when it comes to satisfying local councils' regulatory requirements."

New window shopping dimension

But, since adopting FeONIC's magnetostrictive audio products, Jarvis reported that John Lewis had experienced a  40% uplift in its sales of Samsung smart TVs, which he said the retailer "put down to our technology starting the engagement process outside the shop window, while people pass by the display on the High Street".

The invisible audio technology, originally developed by the US Navy to power their sonar systems, was commercially developed at Hull University before Feonic was formed commercially in 2004. 

It works by converting most surfaces into a loud speaker meaning windows, walls or even the items being sold can convey sounds, talking or music and help support the sales process. And it has already been employed by a number of top retailers, including Topshop, Schuh, Selfridges, Heal’s and Gap, as well as this most recent installation for John Lewis.

Fostering UK retail innovation 

Jarvis said retailers were embracing the technology as part of innovative window displays or in point-of-sale areas to help attract more interest from passers-by by using the medium of sound. He cited the success of an installation that is helping to improve the shopping experience on Margate High Street by filling the space with bird song.

"The technology is able to make a big, directional sound, but with barely any vibration," he added. "The traditional alternative would require a lot of big, ugly speakers, cables and drilling, whereas our system requires no planning permission - you just attach it to the window or surface with a couple of wires and go."

John Lewis engaged creative agency Ignition to create the interactive window display using FeONIC's technology, as well as AR projections and lighting, to showcase the capabilities of the product on display. But, as Jarvis put it: "It is the sound effects that draw the passer-by in, making the window itself almost disappear."

Tagged as: Audio | visual | merchandising | window | display | Feonic | Ignition | Peter Jones | John Lewis | Gap | Margate