Thinking Small With In-Store Signage Can Attract Attention, Increase Sales

February 13, 2013

Wearable signage delivers promotional video messaging through players worn by store associates, enabling retailers to reach customers in a direct, unobstructed way.

What is wearable digital signage?
Wearable signage screens are battery-powered digital media players, typically no bigger than a standard business card. The rechargeable players can display full-motion video loops or slideshows of JPG images uploaded via a USB device or memory card, or through a USB cable connected to the user's PC.

Content for the presentations is often assembled on a PC or through a hosted SaaS site. Through this Web-based portal, retail marketers, merchandisers and creative staff can customize video content with special effects, scrolling text, logos and other branding unique to their store or chain.

By Brian Kutchma,
Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Black Box Network Services

The technology driving today's in-store advertising continues to evolve. And as trends go, a lot of retailers have expanded their creative palette by going large, using a matrix of digital displays to generate interest in their wares.

Others, however, are moving in the opposite direction: They're thinking small. That is, they're looking to use business card-size wearable digital signage, either on its own to promote and advertise products, or as an extension of their traditional, standard-size signage platform.

Wearable signage delivers promotional video messaging through players worn by store associates, enabling retailers to reach customers in a direct, unobstructed way. When employees interact with customers, not only is the shopper's eye easily drawn to the screen, but the messaging also is virtually impossible to ignore — yet another tool for reaching savvy shoppers who have mastered advertising avoidance.

The technology also enables retail marketers to communicate a value proposition without spoken words to customers who don't want to interact with staff, whether they're first entering the store or waiting in line at the point of sale. It can also help associates initiate a conversation with "just-looking"-type shoppers.

What's more, streaming digital ad content on a much smaller scale mirrors how today's mobile consumers — especially those in the much-sought-after youth demographic — are receiving their media in this smartphone and tablet computer age.

In addition, wearable signage represents an evolution of digital signage technology to match the way retailers are now interacting with buyers. For example, wearable signage can be an effective accessory for stores that equip sales staff with handheld register-scanning technology on the floor instead of using stationary register checkout. Because that is where customers interact most with shoppers, it's only natural to keep promotional messaging as mobile as the point of sale is.

Also, as with traditional digital signage, wearable signage can help retailers craft an in-store advertising strategy based on known spending habits of shoppers. Shoppers often come prepared, at least subconsciously, to spend a certain amount of money. They have an amount budgeted mentally for planned purchases but also have "slack" for unplanned buys.

And rarely do shoppers deviate far from that mental budget, at least according to research by the University of Pittsburgh's Jeffrey Inman and Karen M. Stilley, and Baylor University's Kirk L. Wakefield, who came to this conclusion after studying shopper behavior at several Texas grocery stores and examining their store receipts.

Whether they spend that slack depends a lot on whether there are effective stimuli prompting them to buy during the store visit.

And, of course, wearable digital signage can provide the visual stimuli to help retailers make that happen. Shoppers often encounter store associates throughout their visits. By outfitting employees with eye-catching wearable signage, retailers can use each encounter to convey promotional content — messaging that just may get customers to add extra items to their carts, so they leave with more than what they came for.

"I certainly agree that reminders can potentially help inform shoppers about items and decrease the amount of unspent slack," Inman says. But he also cautions that having store associates wearing signage only at the register or in areas leading up to the point of purchase may not always be the best strategy.

"The problem with locating the digital signage at checkout is that shoppers will be reticent to backtrack to an aisle once they are in line," he explains. "A more effective practice would be to have the employees on the sales floor wear them or even attach them to end caps around the store to remind shoppers."

Wearable digital signage easily fits most end-cap applications. Not only do the players usually come with a magnetic clip for attaching to clothing or a lanyard holder for wearing around the neck, but their small form factor also enables their use in standalone displays.

So, if wearable signage is used to promote unplanned purchases, what kinds of products should retailers promote: Commonly forgotten utilitarian items or hedonic splurge items (low-priced gadgets and other products that fit the impulse-buy category)?

"Before the slack is spent, anything is up for grabs," Inman says. "It might be best to keep the message general to spur forgotten needs as well as unplanned wants. Optimally, it would be best if the signage could rotate across the two types of messages."

The effectiveness of wearable signage also depends on how well its content is presented in the store environment. Al Wittemen, a retail industry consultant with 40-plus years of experience advising companies on store branding and marketing, says: "I fundamentally believe that anything that stops, pulls, and closes shoppers is an effective way to communicate with them. I think digital has the power to be exponentially more engaging.

"But it has to be relative to the environment," he says. "You just can't hang it like wallpaper and expect it to work."

The signage content, as with other advertising content, has to adhere to good communications principles.

"I'm not saying this is true all the time, but when a shopper's on the move, you'll want to have digital signage that's still, so they can see it," Wittemen explains.

Yet there is a time and place for full-motion video content that screams for attention.

"When a shopper's standing there, you want it to jump out at you, engage them more," Wittemen says. "You have different signage objectives depending on if you're at 10, 20, or 30 feet."

Wittemen says wearable signage has to be presented in the context of how the shopper is making decisions. The retailer has to understand where the critical consumer touchpoints are and based on that analysis, decide "what to say, how to say it, how much to spend on that and what the ROI is going to be."

Fortunately, because wearable signage has low upfront costs when compared with traditional larger signage and many other retail technologies, there's less risk associated with the deployment. A retailer can deploy wearable players at relatively little cost on a small scale as a pilot project in a single store, and then observe shopper behavior in that test application.

For ROI analysis, a store can develop promotional signage content for specific SKUs and see if there's any uptick in purchases of those SKUs while comparing its sales to sales in stores without wearable signage.

Once ROI is substantiated, a full-scale rollout can come next. What's nice is some wearable signage platforms even support global content updates on players from a central location, such as a corporate marketing department.

The newer content replaces older content on the individual players the next time each wearable signage owner plugs his or her player into a PC and logs into the content management portal. This way, content for players worn by sales associates in different stores can be updated remotely from a central location for consistent, up-to-date sales messaging and promotions.

Copyright © Platt Retail Institute 2012 and reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. See the entire PRI Resource Library at

Brian Kutchma is vice president of sales and marketing at Black Box Network Services, a billion-dollar global communications and technology company. In a very short time, Kutchma has helped establish Black Box as a formidable leader in the signage arena.

Kutchma will also present "Digital Signage Horrors and How to Avoid Them" from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Feb. 27 at Digital Signage Expo 2013.

Be sure to also sign up for the PRI Retail Forum at DSE, 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Feb. 26.

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