Normally when a customer shops for, say, a jacket or a shirt, it’s up to the salesclerk to suggest matching items to generate a bigger sale.

But now high-tech hangers can do the job. When a jacket is lifted from a rack, an embedded sensor sends a signal to a computer and switches on a brief video showing a recommended combination, or how it looks worn by a female idol.

These so-called interactive hangers, developed by digital product firm teamLab Inc., have succeeded in whetting consumer appetite at apparel and other fashion outlets targeting youngsters in a country where consumer sentiment has been depressed for years.

“The hanger is being introduced by apparel makers who want to do something new and think how they can make stores exciting,” said teamLab Marketing Director Yota Nakamura.

Currently, 12 Vanquish and other apparel brand outlets in Tokyo’s major shopping districts, including Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, as well as in Osaka and other cities are using the sensor-embedded hangers.

The idea for interactive hangers came from teamLab’s experience with e-commerce websites: The clothes worn by models sold better than those displayed without.

“We thought we could do the same thing for stores,” Nakamura said. “If images of a model wearing coordinated items appear on a screen when a customer picks up a hanger, we thought it would boost sales.”

Fans of fashion icons featured in the videos talk about the store on social networking sites, contributing to the spread of the brand. At the Vanquish outlet in Shibuya, panels display female idols from AAA and Idoling!!! wearing the clothing when the hanger is picked up.

“Talk about the store spread among their fans through Twitter and Facebook,” said Shohei Sugiyama, a 24-year-old salesclerk at the Vanquish store in Shibuya.

Sales have doubled since the hangers were introduced when the store was moved from the sixth to the third floor in September 2011.

TeamLab is now in talks with more than 10 brands, including four that already utilize the digital installation, to expand to more shops, Nakamura said. The brands include ones in other Asian countries, he added.

The success of digital hangers led to the debut of the “interactive display base” by Samantha Thavasa, a popular brand of bags and other accessories, in Tokyo’s posh Omotesando district on April 5.

When a customer picks up a bag from a small round table, a sensor triggers a video of Australian model Miranda Kerr saying “kawaii” (“cute”).

TeamLab initially expected the interactive hangers would help hesitant customers make a decision, but the firm has found they are acting as a draw for more customers to come to stores.

In response, the Vanquish men’s clothing outlet in the Shibuya 109-2 building installed six panels, up from the one it had when the hangers were introduced in 2011.

Experts say the system has huge marketing potential.

“Such systems increase the amount of information to customers and improve its quality,” said Takayuki Kito, who covers the retail business for German consulting firm Roland Berger. “By using such digital tools, the range of information widens.”

But he cautions it remains to be seen whether the added exposure on social networking sites will translate into higher sales.

TeamLab doesn’t focus on a sales target because that is not the company’s ultimate goal, Nakamura said.

For customers, the most important factor in shopping is having fun, since it is much more convenient to use the Internet when they want to buy something.

“If the shopping experience is fun, it should ultimately increase sales,” Nakamura said. “We want to raise customers’ level of excitement.”

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