The History and Evolution of Retail Digital Signage


Prior to digital signage, retailers used analog video signs. It was common to see video monitors in retail stores in the ’80s and the ’90s displaying retail signage with VHS videotapes. When DVDs were invented, that was the beginning of digital signage for retailers. DVDs were digital and therefore offered improved benefits over VHS tapes, so retailers began to switch to DVD players, with some even using Blu-ray high-definition discs. Some retailers still use these media today.

Both VHS and DVDs were initially shown on cathode-ray-tube TV monitors. When flat-panel displays became affordable and less bulky in the early 2000s, retailers began to convert to flat panels. Today, retailers still use flat-panel displays, but have replaced DVDs and Blu-ray discs with computer-driven signage players, also referred to as media players, which is the heart of a digital sign. With a computer-driven signage player, content can be dynamic, centrally controlled, and updated in seconds—a tremendous marketing tool for retailers.

The evolution from analog video signs to digital has advanced digital signage to new heights, providing many new retail applications. It has only been within the past six years or so that digital signage has taken off in many commercial environments. Digital signage is used in many vertical markets, with the retail industry being one of the fastest growing. This is due to the costs of the displays and players, which continue to fall in price, but also from the benefits digital signs provide to retailers. ROI is the reason why retailers are adapting digital signage for many applications.

Technology is also driving this tremendous growth. New advancements in displays, signage players, content management, Interactivity, and analytics software can engage consumers in ways never before imagined. And, with these new advancements, many new solutions are being introduced to retailers.

Today, you can find digital signage just about everywhere: stores, hotels, banks, shopping malls, medical clinics, bars and nightclubs, airports, fast-food restaurants, convenient stores, gas stations, and many other public locations.

According to a recent industry report, 76 percent of consumers have entered a store because the digital signs were interesting, while an additional 75 percent of consumers have told friends about a store simply because they were impressed by the signage. Most importantly, 68 percent of Americans purchase a product or service because of the appealing nature of the digital signage.

Consider this statistic: 80 percent of U.S. residents aged 12 or older have seen a digital video display in a public venue in the past month; 62 percent recall seeing one in the past week. And nearly one in five (19 percent) said they made an unplanned purchase after seeing an item featured on the screen. What would one in five unplanned purchases do for your business?

Retailers’ use of digital signage has been growing at double digits over the past several years, and is expected to continue at double-digit growth for many years to come. Digital signs are not really new to retailers; they have just evolved over the years. As new advances in digital-signage technology continue to emerge, so will new applications for retailers.

About Author

David Bawarsky, DSCE, is the author of Digital Signage Made Simple for Retailers. He has more than 35 years of experience in helping thousands of companies use technology to effectively communicate their unique marketing messages. He is currently the CEO of mySignageNow, a leading provider of digital signage solutions. He has been a technology entrepreneur throughout his career, creating and managing successful media companies. His companies have won many awards, including an “OBIE” (outdoor advertising’s Oscar) and has been featured in more than 1,900 newspapers, magazines and TV shows worldwide, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, CNN, BBC, NBC’s “Today Show,” and ABC’s “World News Tonight.” For more information, visit

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