Making the Connection

La Curacao’s close relationship with its customers is a testament to the Los Angeles-based department store retailer’s ability to become a member of the Latino community and market effectively to that core-customer base.

Considered by many retail and marketing experts as the most successful U.S.-based retail chain to focus exclusively on U.S. Hispanics, the nine-store La Curacao (pronounced koo-ra-SAO) has created some innovative marketing and service strategies to win the loyalties of its customers. Some of those tactics include unconventional credit-card programs that avail store credit even to high-risk patrons, and delivery guarantees to Mexico and Central America.

A more recent marketing effort, launched exclusively in-store by La Curacao, involves a technology called the Dot. Basically a small computer housed inside a 2-in.-thick, 9-in.- or 13-in.-diameter disk, each Dot is capable of storing massive amounts of information—with both audio and video capabilities. The disk mounts directly on store racks or endcaps and is tilted slightly forward so that no merchandise is displaced. The Dot is the flagship product of Vista, Calif.-based RedDotNet.

According to Al Leon, assistant VP of operations and facilities for La Curacao, incorporating the Dot into stores has measurably improved customer experiences. “Before the Dot, customers would read the CD and DVD covers and try to figure out if they would want to purchase the item,” Leon said. “Today, with a touch of a button, our customers can take any CD, DVD or game and see or hear a preview within seconds.”

Because customer service has been so crucial to the success of La Curacao, Leon added, the fact that the Dot augments the service provided by associates is a big plus.

La Curacao installed its first Dot in May 2005 in its store in San Bernardino, Calif. But the broad uses of this toy-like in-store marketing device are just now being fully grasped.

“We’re working to expand into a much broader space [than the music and video retail industry],” said Brian Horsley, chief technology officer for RedDotNet and the inventor of the Dot, “because the key benefit is that the device allows a lot of information to be given to a customer through a very easy interface.” The brightly hued discs are designed to resemble toys to curb intimidation—and to disguise the fact that a sophisticated computer resides inside.

RedDotNet is in pilot with another department store chain, which is deploying the Dot technology storewide to provide customers with a huge supply of in-stock and catalog product information. A home-furnishings retailer is testing the technology to offset limited display space by housing a myriad of fabric, color and style choices. The device’s thumbwheel allows the retailer’s customers to scan hundreds of choices in a matter of seconds.

While some retailers might be tempted to reduce the number of in-store associates in favor of higher quantities of Dots, Leon said that’s not in the offing for La Curacao. “Each Dot is like having five additional associates,” he said. “Other retailers may reduce the number of associates after adding a technology like this one, but La Curacao did not. We invest to improve the experience for our customer, not to cut costs.”

Currently, 64 Dot units are mounted in the nine La Curacao stores.