Plenty of column inches have been dedicated within these pages to the struggles of high street, ‘bricks and mortar’ retail and how AV is helping to push back against the twin attack dogs of online shopping and economic uncertainty. But what are the key issues?
For retailers today, it’s crucial that they pay heed to the importance of AV retail spaces that engage effectively with customers, with technology on the front line of ensuring that retail brands are able to drive in-store purchases and encourage repeat visits.
Stores must go beyond merely using AV to shape the in-store customer experience, by deploying AV technologies more strategically to shape the future of the high street shopping experience: a future that incorporates online, whilst rebooting in-store retail as the dynamic, first-choice default for consumers.
“As more people move towards online shopping, the high street is striving to become ‘a day out with the family’,” explains Ross Noonan, UK technical product specialist at Optoma.
“Lighting, sound and visual displays being used to make shopping more experiential, together with additional attractions such as cinemas, climbing walls, VR spaces in shopping centres.”
A wide range of AV solutions can be employed to encourage customers to make purchases, whilst making those all-important buying decisions easier and more enjoyable. Large digital displays, LED videowalls, transparent displays, touch screens, digital signage and sound and light systems are all tools available to retailers to increase revenues, and re-cement bricks and mortar shopping for the long term. But the technology is only half of the story.
“AV technology is a component within the total solution, it is the medium for outreach,” opines Jasmin Stemmler, product marketing manager, NEC Display Solutions Europe GmbH.
“For the message to reach its target depends on the relevance of the message – ultimately determining the customers’ reaction and impact of the campaign. A successful campaign hinges on enticing and engaging with the audience.”
Of course, as consumers come to expect tech in-store, retailers have an ever-greater challenge to grab attention and engage with customers. Understandably, many want to install once and prolong the investment as long as possible, and this is where stand-out AV technologies are key, offering wow factor and driving business into stores, and also delivering the highest reliability and warranties. But to prolong an investment, new content, of course, is critical.
Digital signage is extensively used by retailers to attract and engage, through the provision of interesting and relevant content. This can be kept up to date in real time and used to reinforce brand messages.
“Digital signage has been proven to deliver better engagement and ROI than traditional printed posters,” says Simon Carp, senior product manager at ONELAN. “It’s far more responsive to promotional needs than static images, as targeted information can change based on location, time and audience.”
Carp cites the example of Virgin Holidays implementing digital signage to drive in-store customer engagement with relevant and engaging content, helping to create the holiday experience from the moment customers walk in.
“In-store signage ensures customers are always viewing consistent, relevant and localised content, managed and distributed centrally by the marketing team,” he says. “Content is changed on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Peak promotional periods are January, May and September, when content changes more frequently. Equally if there is time-sensitive content, a countdown clock is added to entice bookings.”
“AV has moved on from being an ambient and brand reinforcing medium in the last few years, to being more campaign and experience led,” adds Mark Childerhouse, sales director, Pioneer Group. “Retailers and their merchandising teams curate digital experiences which entertain and help the customer.”
Childerhouse cites a recent project that utilised Play Retail and OPI, where an augmented reality pod enabled users to test the nail polish colours on their hands within a virtual environment.
“A common misconception is that digitalisation is replacing customer service,” he says. “Quite the opposite is true. Digitalisation should enhance engagement and re-connect with customers in a more meaningful way.”
Retailers need to embrace innovation with ‘context aware’ digital signage, using sensor technology to create a targeted and therefore more compelling message. Digital signage located at the point of sale can provide a dynamic and efficient communication platform to promote cross channel offerings.
“Existing online and social media content can be used on these screens to attract new social media followers,” says Stemmler. “Digital signage located at till points achieves a high level of recognition due to the dwell time, leading to increased customer retention.”
This provides an excellent opportunity to promote services available at check-out such as mobile top-up, cash back services and loyalty programmes.
Stemmler: “Get it right and shoppers will perceive greater value from inside the store. They will enjoy better consultancy, engagement, entertainment and choice and more security in knowing they’ve made the right buying decision.”
Experiential retail displays such as those deployed by Spar City Supermarket and the Harrods Faberge installations are becoming more commonplace, with large LED displays ever more prominent and increasingly sophisticated content moving away from the static, still image based installations of yesteryear.
“LED displays lend themselves well to retail because there is no limit to the overall image size as these are based on a modular system where installers can simply add more LED panels to achieve a greater size,” explains Noonan.
“This allows installers to create a bespoke size, aspect ratio and resolution. Clothing retailers are increasingly choosing long, tall ‘totem’ LED configurations, which can show fashion models in portrait mode. Traditional screen dimensions were not ideal for this.”
“LED is the digital display technology every retailer wants in their store,” adds Keith Dutch, managing director, EMEA, Peerless-AV. “Installers and vendors are trying to stay one step ahead, by being the go-to experts in the field of LED, and working together to provide product design and specification, bespoke project handling and installation – so that retailers can rest assured they have the best solution for their store environment.”
As consumers continue to alter the way they interact with the high street shopping experience, certain tech trends are starting to proliferate, accelerating what some see as a retail revolution. LED is certainly one such AV hero.
“There’s certainly an increasing prevalence of LED signage in high street stores,” says Carp. “The flexibility of these displays means they can be more seamlessly integrated into the physical architecture of the retail environment.”
But as AV technology continues to advance, digital displays are doing more than just providing visuals. They are acting as tools to allow retail customers to interact in-store and gather relevant information. Kiosks with touch screens are often set up near various entrances to assist patrons with navigating shopping malls using integrated store directory details and wayfinding solutions.
“Interactive kiosks have been installed over the past few years,” explains Dutch. “These kiosks serve numerous purposes in assisting customers as they peruse the store. Many of these kiosks have a scanning function that allows users to discover pricing and product availability for items. This helps prevent frustrating checkout scenarios related to incorrect or confusing static signage around products.”
The kiosks also often allow customers to simplify their shopping experience, with the ability to search based on categories, such as type of clothing, size and colour. If the product is not in store, shoppers can see similar alternatives or view online availability and still place an order: the so-called omnichannel or hybrid shopping experience.
“Interactive technologies are increasingly important in this regard, with touch screens allowing shoppers to make their own choices,” says Stemmler. “Mutually appealing, business intelligence systems enable retailers to learn more about customers’ preferences, and the shopper benefits from more relevant communication and targeted offers. It is vital this medium provides a smartphone-like experience with familiar responsiveness.”
Interaction, of course, is a great driver for ensuring shoppers return to store, with in-the store experience enhanced by interactivity. “A great example of this is Timberland using near-field communication technology,” says Bryan Edwards, senior consultant, PTS. “Timberland uses this technology in its flagship stores by giving shoppers a tablet that can be pressed against products and signage throughout the location. When the tablet is pressed against the chip, information about that product or offer is displayed on the tablet. Customers don’t have to seek out shop assistants for more information and can easily see the deals offered for each product.”
As shoppers look up items, the tablet’s personalisation software begins to make product suggestions for the user based on their shopping history, creating a more individualised experience: enhanced customer experience at work.
It’s this kind of experiential technology that is likely to push the envelope further as retailers look to leverage AV tech to expand the customer experience.
“The user experience in-store will be the driver for who does well on the high street and who falls by the wayside,” says Edwards. “Technology to support this will change as it always does, but it is the retailer’s vision and ability to react to change which will set them apart.”
A great example of this, according to Edwards, is Apple, with over 500 stores globally and user experience key to the brand’s in-store success. “In Apple stores, the experience is engaging, friendly and interactive,” he says. “This experience transcends into Apple products: once you use an iPhone, iPad or Mac, you recognise the experience across the device interfaces, and after visiting their stores once, you quickly learn where to find the information, product or assistance you need.”
Apple’s focus on people is key to the in-store success, reinforced by user feedback. Apple focuses on the importance of user centric design: it’s not the technology that enriches people’s lives, it’s the experience they have using it.
“The product is just a tool,” says Edwards. “Apple considers the Apple store to be the largest product they produce; they certainly do not believe retail is dead! This will be the face of ‘new retail’, where people can connect. It’s about creating an in-store environment that is far more than just ‘shopping’.
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