It’s that time of the week again - Throw Back Thursday! This week I thought it would be interesting to explore a crucial piece of the retail industry that is quite often taken for granted: The clothes hanger.
While some historians suggest that President Thomas Jefferson was the original inventor of the hanger, the first hanger patent was awarded in 1869 to O. A. North, of New Britain, Connecticut. North’s original hanger, the shoulder-shaped wire hanger, is still one of the most prevalent and widely used designs. The hanger has since been patented an additional 200 times in just the United States alone. In 1906, men’s clothier, Meyer May, became the first retailer to display his products on hangers. Today, hangers are a staple in the vast majority of homes and retailers. http://goo.gl/FvR5b9
Wire hangers even have a claim to fame in pop culture. The 1981 film, Mommie Dearest, features a truly unforgettable scene in which Faye Dunaway’s character suffers a fairly severe emotional breakdown upon finding wire hangers in her daughter’s closet. I, for one, decided to upgrade to wooden hangers after seeing this film.
Although hangers have been a crucial part of brick and mortar environments for the last century, recent changes in retail will likely lead to the clothes hanger becoming an even more prominent fixture. Retail space as we know it, is changing. The rising cost of real estate has led to a push to make brick and mortar stores as efficient as possible. As inventory management systems become more advanced, retail space will become less like stockrooms and more like showrooms. Similar to the way Apple displays its products, more retailers are displaying substantially less inventory on the floor. Ashely Lutz, an innovation writer for SAP, suggests that “inventory could conceivably not even exist in the ‘store’ environment at all, but be shipped directly to your home from a distribution center.” Less inventory per square foot of retail space means that brands have a greater opportunity to highlight each product. Instead of being folded and stacked in piles, more items will be able to be individually hung, allowing for the highest level of exposure. Christopher Studach, Creative Director at King Retail Solutions suggests that “stores will become more theatrical, more immersive, and more of a life experience rather than simply a place to get something. As much as they are selling products they will be selling a good time, a lifestyle.” This evolution of the retail space has created an opportunity for hangers to really shine through creative innovation. http://goo.gl/KY44gE
Until recently, clothes hangers served only one purpose: to hang clothes. However, in 2011, the digital creative firm, teamLAB, developed a “smart” hanger that brings a layer of digital engagement to an otherwise basic experience. A sensor in the hanger transmits data to a nearby screen when it’s lifted off the rack that shows pictures of “people modeling that piece of clothing, and even a video pairing that piece of clothing with others in the store so the shopper can easily put together a whole outfit.” The sensor in the hanger can also be used to control the lighting and the music in the store, depending on that particular shopper’s mood and preference. http://goo.gl/tYLe5r
As innovative as this product is, there are several logistical concerns that immediately come to mind. What happens if multiple people pick up hangers from the same rack? What product takes precedence on the screen? Which shopper has ultimate control over the music and lightning when conflicting opinions arise? All logistical issues aside, this product makes one think about the possibilities for clothes hanger innovation as we move into a new era in retail. NFC, RFID, BLE Beacons, barcode scanning, and social media integration are just a few ways that technology could change the way hangers are utilized in the store of the future.