Brick-and-mortar retailers are discovering that it's just not enough anymore to rent a storefront, slap on some shelves and roll out their products for display.
The Internet has given shoppers the ability to track down the cheapest price for a particular product at the touch of a button and have it shipped directly to their door. Although the death of the brick-and-mortar retailer may have been prematurely exaggerated, those retailers do face challenges if they want to remain viable.
How, then, can they not only survive, but also thrive? How does a retailer create an atmosphere in its location where someone would want to walk in and spend some time when there are so many other options in the marketplace?
Part of the answer lies in creating an immersive in-store experience — and innovative and immersive digital signage can be a significant factor in that answer.
"People can shop and buy literally from everywhere today," said Brian Ardinger of self-service technology provider Nanonation. "The key differentiation point is that in-store experience."
But digital signage can provide interactive touchscreens, mobile and smartphone interaction, games and entertainment, 3D or 2D content, and the most engaging, ambiance-setting, brand-conscious content imaginable and still possibly fall flat. For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost ...
One of the simplest and easiest to potentially overlook factors in a successful retail digital signage deployment, and one that could trip up even the best laid plans of retailers and deployers, is simply where to put the screens.
Creating high-quality content is meaningless if the screens are not in an effective location. Proper screen placement is necessary for the content to reach the customers in the most effective way possible.
"The placement is the difference between people watching the screens or not," said Tim Tang, marketing director for broadband solutions company Hughes Network Systems of Germantown, Md.
One of the primary goals of in-store digital signage is to encourage customers to spend money they otherwise might not have spent. A good placement strategy to achieve this end is to install screens promoting a certain product on shelves near that product and have those screens as close to eye level as possible. If the product is within arms' reach, it will make the ad more effective because the message will be fresh in the customer's mind. In addition, an ad demonstrating how a product is used can cause customers to envision themselves using the product as well as answer any questions the customer might have about what the product will look like once it is out of the box.
"You can show them products that they wouldn't be able to see without opening a box or engaging a customer service rep," said Tom Westerberg, CEO of Largo, Fla.-based digital signage solution provider Inspire Digital Signage.
By placing signage near the products being promoted, the signage achieves two purposes: advertising a product and providing valuable, instructional information to the customer about the product, without requiring more staff.
"You want to educate consumers so they can make a purchasing decision," said Craig Martin, CEO of Middletown, Conn.-based Reality Interactive, an integrator of digital signage kiosks and merchandising programs, "Companies who invest in [educating consumers] are rewarded."
A common screen placement mistake is hanging the screens in the middle of an aisle above eye level. Customers walking through the store may not look up and, thus, may miss the signage entirely. If they do notice the signage, then the customers must crane their necks to look up at the screen, making it uncomfortable to stay and watch the content, creating a negative impression in the customers' minds about the signage, even if it is displaying useful, relevant content.
The lighting conditions where the screens will be placed also should be considered before installation of the digital signage. If there is a lot of ambient light in a store during daytime hours and the screens are placed near windows, then the daylight can overwhelm and wash out the image on the screen, making the content difficult to see.
Any area where customers have to wait for any length of time is a good spot for digital signage. In a store setting, a cash wrap is a good location to display entertainment content, as well as any advertising content for items being sold at the cash wrap. In establishments that have a waiting area (such as a bank lobby), digital signage can be used to entertain the customer and make the wait time seem shorter.
Hotels can feature signage in or near elevators to give guests something to watch as they wait for the elevator to arrive or during the ride.
"You create the illusion that time is not going by as slowly," said Brian Hirsh, senior vice president of media services for Redmond, Wash.- based PlayNetwork Inc., a media services provider.
For some stores, screens can be deployed in the store's windows in an effort to lure customers into the establishment. Large stores like Walmart and Target have built-in customer bases who will enter the store regardless of advertising, so the store window may not be the most effective placement of digital signage. But for smaller stores, where getting people to enter the building is crucial, a store window is an excellent place for digital signage.
"You need to get them to cross the threshold," said Mike Schaiman, managing partner at San Francisco-based Helios Interactive Technologies, a company specializing in interactive digital signage displays.
Knowing the aims of the digital sign, whether it's increasing foot traffic or promoting a sale on specific products, will help with the placement of screens. Once the goal is determined, the content can be adjusted accordingly. Screens that are meant to entice customers into a store should feature short, tightly edited segments that cycle through on a short timeline, Hirsh said. People passing by a store window are not going to stop for long to look at a screen; they will cast a quick glance and make a quick decision as to whether they want to enter the store.
Just like in so many other businesses, digital signage in retail really can come down to just three things: location, location, location.
Read more about retail digital signage.
(This article was adapted from content taken from the DST guide "Digital Signage in Retail" and the DST white paper "Creating an Immersive Retail Experience." Click on the links to download the free publications.)