Is the future of digital signage for sale, retail?

Could digital signage be headed to a big box retailer near you?

Usually the purview of technology distributors like Ingram Micro, Almo Pro A/V or Avnet, a turnkey digital signage system targeting small- and medium-size businesses is now being offered in a retail electronics chain.

LG Electronics USA recently announced that it had struck a deal with retailer Fry's Electronics Inc. to feature an LG digital signage solution at the chain's 34 nationwide locations and on the retailer's website.

While this is hardly the first time a digital signage provider has tried to market an all-in-one digital signage solution, the approach of trying to sell it out of a retail setting is at least unusual, if not unique.

In announcing the move, LG said its aim is "helping more small business owners access affordable digital signage technology" by offering its popular LG EzSign TVs through Fry's retail channels.

"Given the increase in 'do-it-yourself' small business owners turning to traditional electronics retailers for business solutions, teaming up with Fry's to reach this customer segment was a natural fit for LG and a turnkey commercial product like EzSign TV," said Rick Calacci, LG's vice president of regional sales, in announcing the deal. "Progressive home electronics retailers like Fry's are expanding both in-store and online inventory to include the latest small business solutions, and LG sees this as a trend that will continue as the 'DIY' small business segment matures."

LG markets the EzSign TV system as a digital signage solution for SMBs, with high-quality picture and contrast ratios combined with customizable content running simultaneously with live TV or other external media sources, attracting attention while delivering messaging to consumers.

Fry's retail locations and e-commerce site will be offering the 32-, 42- and 47-inch class sizes of the EzSign LD452B LCD TV series including an internal media player, complete software package with custom signage templates and commercial-grade display settings aimed at optimizing power savings and product lifespan.

According to the announcement from LG, Fry's Electronics is the first retail outlet to both sell and display the commercial EzSign TV product in-store, giving small business owners the chance to learn more about the product and "test drive" it in a retail setting.

Loren Bucklin, president of digital signage integrators ConnectedSign, called the news "interesting" because of the increased visibility it should bring to digital signage in general.

"The major change here is not so much the hardware and software offering as the fact that it's come down to the public at the consumer level, which probably will end up being good," he said. "More people will walk by, see it and Google it and want to research pricing and find out more about digital signage that way."

Digital signage expert Keith Kelsen, the author of "Unleashing the Power of Digital Signage – Content Strategies for the 5th Screen," said he believes that small businesses with few locations will be the ones to benefit most from an offering like this. With Fry's 30-plus locations, "it will be a bit of an experiment to see how well this works in the marketplace," while wondering will the retailer provide "a best practices document that covers placement, content and other issues related to effective signage that will help even this class of customer?"

"Remember that 30 percent of the operational cost is all about content," Kelsen said. "Just because you can use templates and PowerPoint does not make your signage effective. That said, more sophisticated retailers and corporations with many locations will still require more robust system and customized branded content."

Bucklin agreed that this would likely be a good way to get more people to get to that entry point into digital signage, at least at first. Other all-in-one, "sign-in-a-box" type deployments have generally met with limited success, he said, "primarily because there's a hardware, a software and a content component, and all three have to be well implemented to be successful."

"And it's rare that with the exception of simple menu boards and things that these things ever actually get to be stunning full-service deployments without a bigger company with a studio and some real slick implementation skills behind them, " he said. "It just doesn't seem to get there. People are just running PowerPoint on steroids, basically, and at that point they look around and say, 'I could probably do this a lot cheaper,' or they go the other direction, they say 'I could do this a lot better.'"

But for smaller businesses that don't need larger, more extensive deployments, a simpler solution at the big box retailer just down the street might be the best way to go, particularly since many of those small business owners won't have a relationship with one of the big tech distributors. And being able to find a pro-grade digital signage solution in the same place they might otherwise — mistakenly — decide to purchase a consumer-grade television to hang up as a digital sign, should only help reduce the number of mistakenly deployed TVs that end up burning out and potentially making digital signage in general look shoddy.

Perhaps the biggest benefit, though, is the publicity such a retail partnership can generate, Bucklin said. Maybe this will introduce digital signage to people who otherwise wouldn't know what it is, and then down the road bring them back to LG or another solution provider for more.

"Anything that enhances awareness is good," Bucklin said. "Once people become familiar with it they realize it's all over the place; they've been seeing it everywhere ... That enhanced awareness is something that will always be good for the industry."

Read more about digital signage hardware and software.

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