Transforming the Retail Experience with Digital Signage

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At a time when almost anything can be bought online, brick and mortar retailers must use creative strategies and advanced technologies to create dynamic, media-driven environments that make shopping in stores more appealing and engaging.

While traditional retail marketing is facing many challenges, advancements in digital signage, video walls and interactive displays are ushering in many new opportunities to attract and engage shoppers. When deployed effectively, this “experiential digital signage” can reinforce store branding, promote customer loyalty and boost sales and revenue.

The key to effectively engaging shoppers through experiential digital signage is to develop a strategy in alignment with in-store marketing goals. If the goal is to create a unified impression across multiple retail locations, departments or areas, then an ideal approach is to configure a system for centralized content management with targeted IP delivery to networked media players across displays, kiosks and/or video walls.

If the goal is to entertain shoppers, consider a digital signage system that provides multi-zone screen display where each zone of the screen can present different content. This could be video or media assets produced in-house, mixed with external media and data sources. For example, the screen can be divided into zones filled with moving video, photos, Flash media and animations, logos, clocks, event calendars, graphics and text and even live television. Tickers and crawls can run along the bottom of the screen to announce news headlines, sports scores, weather alerts and other data streaming via RSS and XML feeds.

There is also a useful wayfinding element to explore. Digital signage can prove valuable to the “what, when and where,” guiding shoppers as they explore merchandise and consider whether to purchase or pass. A flexible content creation platform with targeted distribution can bolster the experience, disseminating relevant content tied to product information, sales incentives and video tutorials. This strategy is further enhanced when the network includes strategically positioned interactive touchscreens and kiosks that direct shoppers to the right aisles and products to influence buying decisions.

Digital Signage and Shopper Activation

Digital signage has reached a new benchmark for integration into the larger retail experience, including shopper personalization. That personalized approach can be achieved by leveraging APIs that enable the systems to interface with third-party technologies such as advanced retail analytics, data tracking platforms, RFID (radio frequency identification) technology and biometric scanners.

RFID is a technology that is capable of identifying a unique object such as a product on display. Unlike scanned barcodes, RFID systems have an antenna/transceiver that uses radio frequency waves to transmit a signal that activates a transponder or tag. Once activated, this tag transmits data back to the antenna, which can potentially initiate other automated processes or transactions. Using RFID data that identifies a shopper activation related to a product can then trigger specific digital signage content, making shoppers feel special and valued.

Biometric scanners represent another personal recognition tool that can tie into sophisticated digital signage systems. These scanners tend to profile a person in broad brushstrokes such as gender, age, etc. Using that information, the digital signage system can display content specifically suited to that demographic profile.

While these technologies can greatly personalize and enhance the shopping experience, one of the biggest challenges going forward is how to make it feasible and affordable to use them in conjunction with digital signage systems, especially for large-scale deployments.

Many retailers now use advanced analytics to track and understand how their merchandise moves around the store as people shop, what items made it to the checkout and what’s been left on fitting room hooks. When digital signage systems are used in combination with these platforms, shoppers may now start to see digital signage messaging that is personalized for them.

Mobility and the Retail Experience

Downloadable apps offer another emerging means for retailers to connect with customers. A prime example is using the store’s Wi-Fi network to receive timely information via a retailer’s app, such as the arrival of new merchandise or an exclusive sales offer while shopping.

Naturally, the customer’s mobile phone or Bluetooth device must be active when the store sends out a push notification about the availability of the app, or they will not know to download it, potentially resulting in a missed sales opportunity. Digital signage displays offer a call to action for shoppers to download the app, along with other incentives they may have missed at first, yet still have an opportunity to seize.

While walking through the store, this digital signage message could catch their eye: “Did you know you can download our free mobile app to get special sales offers?” Then, once downloaded and terms and conditions accepted, their information could be used right then and there and then stored for future use.

For example, let’s say that through PoS (point of sale) analytics, that John Smith was in the store at a certain time and bought a pair of shoes. The next time John is in the store, the digital signage could use John’s shopping history to display a unique message just for him, “Check out our half-price sale on running shoes – today only.”

Tailored Approach

There is no right or wrong approach when deploying a digital signage network, as every store is unique. This is especially true when deployed as part of a larger retail experience. Retail management, in-store design companies and other experts that understand consumer-shopping behaviors on larger installations all play substantial roles. This is also a significant reason why digital signage in retail is a much more complex endeavor than in other business verticals, where we traditionally engage mainly with marketing departments.

Decisions need to be made about key issues such as where to place the displays, screen size and dimensions, angle or orientation and the availability of power and local area networking. A well-designed, flexible digital signage system – utilizing a network of media players – should be able to adapt to any plan, and deliver content in a way that is optimized for a wide variety of screens.

The more flexible digital signage software on the market enables businesses to tailor media content for proper display on smaller screens, such as Android smartphones and tablets. That content can also be magnified to higher resolutions for display on interactive kiosks and touchscreens, all the way up to big-screen LEDs, video walls and storefront landscape or portrait displays that can display 4K and even higher resolution UHD content. Today’s leading digital software should be limitless in regard to resolution support.

Ensuring Efficient Operations

It is important to make sure the signage system chosen for a particular installation scales to the number of displays that ultimately need to be deployed. Does the retailer want to make a big splash by concentrating a lot of digital signage displays at just a few busy, flagship stores? Or, would the retailer prefer to have fewer displays in any one place, but spread out across more store locations?

Digital signage can create a consistent, unified message with branding that ties different locations together. However, retailers must consider the scale of their digital signage installation, which will impact the level of capital investment. 

Signage systems should have a very user-friendly software interface and an intuitive workflow that won’t intimidate employees. This enables the retailer to keep signage operations in-house to further reduce operating costs.

The digital signage system chosen should offer simplicity in template creation, media uploads, multi-zone display composition and playlist management among other common digital signage tasks. The interface should also enable easy management of content dissemination to media players, including the means of designating what playlist or content should flow to which players. When a digital signage system assigns a particular tag to a player, content with the same tag will find its way to the corresponding player or group of players. This addressability gives retailers creative freedom and operational control over the way content displays on all the screens throughout the network.

Digital signage can be considered the voice of the retailer, speaking directly to customers and maximizing in-store sales opportunities. It is more than simply advertising or gathering information about individual shoppers; it is about leveraging that information at the point of sale to tailor a digital signage message that is relevant to that particular shopper’s needs and interests. The right digital signage system – especially when paired with other advanced technologies – can completely transform the retail marketing experience, making it more rewarding for everyone.

By Jeffrey Weitzman, Director of Business Development, Navori Labs

*Originally published in Platt Retail Institute’s Q4 Journal of Retail Analytics

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