Those paper color strips at the paint store are on the way out

PPG's big-screen kiosks let shoppers test more than 2,000 colors by 'painting' virtual rooms.

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Credit: Harry Giglio

It's tough to make home-decorating decisions when you're standing in a paint store, trying to pick colors by comparing a bunch of cardboard swatches. Should you choose the off-white Pacific Pearl or the aqua Treasure Island? There's no way to know how they'll look on your wall. Or is there?

PPG Industries aims to help those stressed-out customers--and sell more paint in the process. The maker of paints and other coatings developed an interactive in-store kiosk that lets shoppers select colors from more than 2,000 options and then view their choices on a 42-in. touchscreen. Users of the PPG Color Work Station, which is a 2015 CIO 100 award winner, can paint virtual rooms with specific colors, view videos featuring selected colors and access product information.

The company installed the kiosks in more than 700 retail locations in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2014. "The idea was to engage customers. This was one part of the strategy to increase sales, to convert more prospects into sales," says Werner Baer, vice president of IT at PPG Industries.

Using digital technologies for customer engagement is critical in the retail sector today. "There is a race to win the hearts and wallets of consumers by adding more and more features," says Leslie Hand, vice president of IDC Retail Insights.

Users of PPG's kiosk can scan bar codes from paper color chips and brochures to view the colors on the big screen. The system can also be used to send customers email with their selections and images of sample painted rooms, so they can view their choices on their own devices later on.

Each kiosk is Internet-enabled for two-way communication, so PPG can pull data from built-in analytics about consumer interactions, and push new colors and other updates to the kiosks.

PPG had to overcome several challenges, says Christopher Caruso, director of global business IT for PPG Architectural Coatings. The kiosks had to be installed in the stores just right; if the screen was installed too tightly to the frame it wouldn't work properly. Other challenges centered on wireless connectivity and data security in stores.

Baer says early data collected from retail outlets shows that stores with kiosks sold more paint. "So we believe it's helping close the sale," he says. The kiosks also save PPG money by limiting the need to print, distribute and update paper color chips, Baer adds.

More important, the kiosks open up new opportunities. Eventually, the kiosks will be able to help people color-coordinate entire renovation projects, not just the paint, Caruso says. The goal is to add data from other companies so that customers can use the kiosks to identify merchandise that color-coordinates with their paint selections and, likewise, to find the PPG paint that matches other purchases, such as new rugs or curtains. The kiosks will use analytics to recommend items to shoppers, and let customers create their own custom colors.

Capabilities like that should help drive sales, Hand says. "The more you can get into supporting the whole process," she explains, "the more you're going to lock in that customer loyalty."

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