Mike McNamara: How Technology and Art Fuel Retail Innovation

May 22, 2017 - Article reads in
guest experience
Mike McNamara portrait

Just a few weeks after the launch of 360-degree shopping on Target.com, Target’s chief information and digital officer Mike McNamara dives deeper into the inspiration, development, strategy and benefits behind Target’s newest digital experience.

What do you get when you merge the power of a deep bench of technical talent with world-class innovations in art?

One big thing we are working at Target is thinking about ways to bring the in-store experience that our guests love to our guests who shop online. To translate that brand love from the store to our website, we are testing new ways to deliver a unique and differentiated experience for guests. For us, it means thinking differently about how to bring together some of our best engineers and creative talent. This new way of working hit an important milestone last week when we launched the first 360-degree shopping experience on Target.com – featuring a living room that’s entirely Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), technology best known for its role in Hollywood films.

The journey of this new product began as an experiment in one of our Bangalore-based Marketing team member’s garage.  The team was looking to solve a big business problem – find a way to best capture a 360-degree view of a product through photographs. They started by rigging PVC pipes to enable 360-degree photography. These are the types of projects that are sometime difficult to launch in a huge enterprise like Target – so the team had to be scrappy and nimble in their execution.  

This quickly evolved from a proof of concept to fully built-out photogrammetry rigs that enable 3D captures and are now being used to fuel our CGI initiative. To strengthen our CGI capabilities, we knew we needed to look outside of our company to develop and scale the technology. That’s where our Accelerator program came in. Target India worked with startups from our Accelerator in Bangalore to enable us to move quickly on building out our capabilities. Now the focus is on scaling CGI for the enterprise.

As the team built out the technology, we quickly realized more benefits of this brilliant technology. The team’s innovations could reduce the enormous costs associated with traditional photography, ensure faster go-to-market time and provide teams with a repository of 3D and CGI generated assets that can be reused across our business. We were saving tons of time and money that we used to spend on shooting styled rooms and photos that were nearly obsolete once they’d been shot due to changes in product assortment or season.

As I mentioned, engaging and interactive shopping experiences are a differentiator for Target in our store and our guests are increasingly looking for these types of experiences online, where they can interact with products and get a real-time understanding of styling. 

This was the sweet spot for us: uniting technology, creativity and Target’s differentiated products combine to build a completely new and inspiring digital experience. And, remarkably: the whole capability was designed and developed in just six months.  

Whether they are attracted to a modern, contemporary, farmhouse or traditional style, we hope to give our guests the opportunity to take a virtual walk through different living rooms, gain inspiration from the design and pairing of products and easily click on items they like to add them to their carts.

The flexibility of CGI will allow us to swap out products in case of out-of-stocks, pair different items together quickly and easily and even paint the room a totally different color or change the décor in speeds typically unheard of when using traditional styling and product photography. It’s just brilliant work.

Working this way has been a massive shift for us at Target, but it’s a welcome one. My hope is that we continue to explore and push the boundaries on what innovations are possible when we work differently and discover new ways to blend the art and science of retail to create fun new experiences for our guests.

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