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Can Ebay pull off a giant ‘Touch Window’ for New York shoppers?

Ebay and retailer Kate Spade are doing something this summer that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: creating a pop-up store in New York that will feature a gigantic touchscreen store window.

Let’s be clear—what would have been unthinkable would be a relatively small (82-store) apparel chain taking on something this technically aggressive, even with a partner as big as eBay to help foot the bill.

Written by Frank Hayes. Leaving aside all the obvious unanswered questions—from “how do you physically protect a giant touchscreen?” to “how much of an exhibitionist does a customer have to be to browse a web catalog that’s taller than she is, right out in public?”—it’s a testament to how inexpensive and physically tough this kind of technology has become that it’s viewed as practical. Of course, that all assumes that the chain and eBay will actually get it to work as advertised. 

The project was revealed by eBay CEO John Donahoe, speaking at a conference on April 30.Donahoe didn’t give many details about the pop-up store, but he described the concept.“Here in New York, later on this summer, one of the retailers we’re working with is going to do pop-up stores with a storefront in which the store window is a touchscreen, so both during the day and at night you can shop and you can engage with their inventory,” he said.TechCrunch later learned that the retailer was Kate Spade on Saturday.

That fits in with Donahoe’s notion of shopping that’s tied in with a whole collection of screens, ranging from smartphones to tablets and PCs to TVs and in-store displays. The idea of a giant touchscreen isn’t new, but the definition of “giant” has changed just in the past several years, from a 42-inch touchscreen embedded in a seven-foot-tall kiosk at JCPenney (NYSE:JCP) in 2011 to entire shop windows today.

Of course, it’s easy to announce a concept (just ask any player in mobile payments). The devil is in the details, or more accurately, in those as-yet-unanswered questions.

How will eBay (we have to assume this will be primarily eBay’s role) protect the publicly accessible touchscreen front window from abuse? That doesn’t just mean the risk of some New Yorker tossing a brick through a very expensive touchscreen—the workaround for that is to use an ordinary window, a little spray-on frosting and a projector, along with technology that senses where a customer’s hand is remotely. That way the worst a brick can do is break a window.


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