If a Mannequin could speak what would it say?

5 shirts for £100. What else?

Mannequins have long fascinated a certain type of artistic individual. For example, nobody alive in the 1970s will forget the Kids from Fame and this forensic exploration of the links between the human and material worlds.

But what if mannequins could really talk? A London-based manufacturer of retail furniture has given them the power of speech. Well, sort of.

Iconeme (a spin off from Universal Display) has attached iBeacons to manniquins in three stores – Hawes & Curtis in Jermyn Street, House of Fraser, Aberdeen and Bentalls in Kingston. The beacons broadcast a unique number via Bluetooth. If you’ve downloaded the Iconeme app, then once you’re in range, your phone pings with a message of some sort.

Future of retail? Or another opportunity for spam? I’ve written about the theory and pitfalls of iBeacons before. So, I was excited to try the service out at Hawes & Curtis (my favourite shirt shop) and here’s what happened.

About ten yards from the store (see below), my phone vibrated with a message.

Hawes & Curtis, Jermyn Street
Hawes & Curtis, Jermyn Street
Iconeme message from Hawes & Curtis
Iconeme message from Hawes & Curtis

Okay, the message was a bit long but I understood the sentiment and clicked on it and was taken to a screen within the Iconeme app. This highlighted the four outfits on display in the shop window.


Clicking on the outfits, gives the opportunity to “shop the look.” The squiggles on the right of the price tag are options to (1) ping to the product page on the Hawes & Curtis website….


(2) discover where in store the product can be found….


(3) share the product with friends via a 188 (??) character tweet.


That’s it. The dialogue is one-way and there’s no opportunity to speak back to the mannequin or to Hawes & Curtis. But then, I was in a shop and could very easily speak to the shop staff. And I’ve never shared Leroy’s obsession.

Of course, the service only worked because I’d signed up for Iconeme earlier and given permission for it to send me location-based notifications.

The download and registration were pretty straight-forward. The app only asked for my age, sex and measurements.



I’d expect future versions of the app to request more detailed personal information including post code and any loyalty scheme info for participating stores.

The app then gives you a chance to control the spam.


The T’s and C’s need some work. Try reading this on an iPhone.


Likewise, the privacy policy. I just clicked “accept” but I haven’t the slightest idea what I agreed to.



This is a novelty right now but, used wisely, this technology could be of great benefit to shoppers. I love Hawes & Curtis shirts. If I’m walking past a store, there has to be something useful the brand can say to me. Especially if they’ve managed to tie in my previous purchase history. I also like the idea of having a single app that I can use to control messaging from a number of different retailers.

It’s interesting that it’s a mannequin manufacturer that is commercialising the service. Universal Display has relationships with most brands on the high street and the incremental cost of the iBeacon is negligible. Their challenge will be to quickly gain credibility with their clients’ digital marketing teams. Nevertheless, Iconeme has give the user experience some thought and have produced something that is both low touch and engaging.

There remains, of course,  a risk that the technology will not be used wisely. Sending notifications is costless and marketers may very well  abuse the privilege by sending large numbers of irrelevant messages. Just as they do with email.




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