By Eric Bland, Vice President and General Manager, and Haley Milicevich, Marketing Assistant, D3 LED, LLC
With each new business venture, even the most experienced retail brands find themselves in the driver’s seat at several key crossroads. Decisions of location, strategy and design all profoundly shape the direction, and ultimately the success, of a project. Contributing to the decision opportunities is the emergence of digital signage, a trend with such tremendous benefits that it is impossible to ignore. With a variety of display options available, retailers around the world must carefully analyze which digital signage technology provides the best solution for a store’s specific needs.
Today’s major contenders are LCD and LED displays, each of which have a unique place in retail environments. LCDs are backlit displays that create images by permitting light transmission through their liquid crystal lens. They have the greatest resolution on smaller displays, from 20 to 100 inches, and offer versatility as they can be tiled together to create larger displays. LEDs, light-emitting diodes, on the other hand, are ideal for larger displays, typically more than 100 inches. LED displays create images by changing the brightness of LEDs, and are scalable to any size with no visible seams. Their most impressive features for retail are their brightness capabilities with minimal glare, a significant visual benefit for continuous, uninterrupted imagery on large video walls.
With obvious advantages to both LCD and LED displays, the cost of ownership weighed against the features and benefits of each often becomes the deciding factor. LCD displays have a typical lifespan of 30,000 to 60,000 hours, or 3.4 to 6.8 years, and have historically required less of an initial investment. Today, however, point-of-entry for LED displays typically can start 20 percent lower than the lowest point-of-entry for commercial-grade LCDs, making them appealing as an introduction into digital technology. Higher-end LED displays require a greater initial investment, but have a typical lifespan of 80,000 to 100,000 hours, or nine to 11.4 years. With image and color consistency throughout the whole display, LEDs provide the contrast ratio and brightness needed for indoor and outdoor settings alike.
Express faced this LED vs. LCD conundrum as it formed the design plan for its new flagship stores in San Francisco’s Union Square and New York City’s Times Square. The latest Express store, the new 15,726-square-foot location in Union Square, boasts elements of refined chic in a modern design to create an individual space and sense of style. A massive digital LED column standing more than 13 feet high welcomes visitors to Express Union Square with high-definition content. In 2013, D3’s curved, 4-millimeter high-resolution LED column was recognized by the Wall Street Journal as the only 4-millimeter LED display in the world having a 36-inch-or-less convex radius.
Above the store’s cash wrap area is a 4-millimeter high-resolution LED display that emphasizes the Express brand. LED was the chosen product for this project because the display needed to cover 121.52 square feet of surface area with no visible seams.
In the New York City Express store, a 2.5-milimeter high-resolution indoor display was built. LED was chosen for this display because Express was looking for a solution that could provide brightness and vibrancy, free from bezels and seams. Prominently positioned at the top of the escalator bank is an 11-foot-high by 5-foot wide display to greet guests with content featuring models wearing the latest fashion collections from the brand’s four lifestyles. The displays seamlessly blend into these sleek retail environments while enriching the in-store customer experience. This shift from static to digital signage has transformed Express into a dynamic shopping experience.
LED is noteworthy for various reasons. First, it can be used to create unique shapes like the tight radius of the Express showroom column.
Second, given the same brightness, LEDs are typically 30 percent more efficient on average than LCD displays, resulting in a 30 percent reduction in energy consumption for lower monthly power bills. The reduced power usage also results in lower heat production and thus reduced cooling bills.
Finally, from a maintenance perspective, LED has benefits. As with any technology, minor failures occur, modules go out and physical elements break down. LED, however, allows much more flexibility when these inevitable failures occur. In an LED display, individual components can be repaired or replaced without having to unnecessarily replace functional parts.
Since the time of the Express Union Square install just a year ago, the pricing of LED displays has come down significantly. While the design and technology benefits of LED justified the extra expense for the Express flagship location, current pricing has edged LED forward as the clear choice for flagship locations and local stores alike.
After accounting for extended lifetime, reduced power and cooling expenses, the break-even point between LCD and LED begins at high-definition resolutions, ideal for large displays, particularly for longer in-store viewing distances, and is anticipated to continue to improve in the years to come. For closer viewing distances, the extra features of ultra-high-definition LED displays, including expanded brightness and contrast, reduced glare, curved and unique shapes and modular maintenance capabilities justify the possible additional investment. When factoring in all relevant considerations to develop the true cost of ownership over the lifetime of the product, current LED display pricing can now meet or exceed the affordability of comparable-sized LCD displays, making it a bright investment for retail spaces.
This feature article was republished with permission from the Journal of Retail Analytics.