Choose your favorite color combinations, add or remove pockets, pick the perfect fit and trim – even add a personalized message – these kiosks mark a new approach to apparel.
The aisles of Midwest Mountaineer in Minneapolis are nearly overflowing with gear. Row upon row of Patagonia, Marmot, Granite Gear, and other outdoors mainstays take up every inch of the shop’s lodge-like retail space.
But off to one side, sticking up conspicuously in the paddlesports area, sits a massive, glowing touchscreen monitor. On it shines the image of a blank puffy parka, virtually begging to be decorated.
And that’s exactly the idea. The kiosk is part of a “function test,” a pilot program by its designer, New Normal Consulting, and Hexa Recreation Products. The kiosk, one of two in existence, allows customers to customize a puffy with fit, design, fill, and more. Dozens of sizes, colors, and materials round out customization.
But exactly what niche it fills in the age of increasingly online, direct-to-consumer retail remains to be seen.
The pre-pilot kiosks – part of a “function test” to address any bugs before larger rollout – currently serve customers of Ute Mountaineer in Aspen, Colo., and Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis.
They’re hard to miss. The kiosk stands about 6 feet high, about two-thirds of which is a lit touchscreen display. Here, a guided prompt walks customers through the customization process.
Choose from from dozens of color combinations for the front, back, hood, liner, and more. Beneath the screen, 60 color swatches show you what the colors look like on fabric and zippers.
Functionally, buyers can select between goose down (800-fill) and duck (650-fill). There’s also choices for hood or no hood, breast pocket, and custom lettering.
But perhaps the biggest selling point for this electronic puffy generator are the 12 torpedo-like tubes along the side. In each is a sample puffy of a different size.
“It seems that customers are resonating mostly with the fit story,” said Brad Werntz of New Normal Consulting, which helped design and build the kiosks. “This has meant that women – extra-small, slim, and short-armed – can finally get a jacket that fits. Big, lanky men have also liked this, with extra-large, slim, long-sleeved garments. We can really fit all body types.”
It’s true. There’s a row of sample puffies for men and women. And within each there are slim, regular, and full trims. Once the wearer has the style they like, they select the best size and can even choose extra-long sleeves at checkout.
Orders ship directly to buyers’ homes in two to three weeks. Based on the test orders we did, the cost is on par with non-custom jackets on retail shelves. Base prices start around $250, and our test jacket with custom colors and goose down cost about $320.
Good for Brick-and-Mortar Shops?
According to Werntz, the kiosk has been a resounding hit at the Aspen location.
“It can be used as a way to significantly increase floor traffic,” he told us. “Ute Mountaineer in particular has already seen how ‘sticky’ this thing is, as it keeps customers engaged and in the store longer.”
Plus, he noted, the kiosks have the potential to greatly reduce retail headaches. With the custom jackets, he reasons, shops won’t have to attend trade shows, balance inventories, track orders, or deep discount excess product.
In the near-term, however, there are still questions. Elizabeth John, clothing manager at the Minneapoils store, sees the kiosk’s potential but remains uncertain how it blends with the brick-and-mortar ethos.
“My concerns at the beginning were about how it would affect our sales of jackets we were committed to in preseason orders,” she said.
Plus, the retail shops remain hands-off if customers want to return the custom jacket. According to Werntz, Hexa expects a return rate of about 3 percent. Ideally, he said, that could be even lower because the jackets are almost entirely customized.
Werntz confirmed the brand expects to roll out more kiosks as part of “phase two” of development. As online sales continue to pressure ma ‘n pa stores, these kiosks could provide some relief and provide a better product for consumers.