In-store media mystery

The digital media market presents some tough choices for technology decision-makers in the retail sector, notes Hannah Prevett.

Persuading customers to part with their hard-earned cash is difficult under any circumstances, but for retailers operating in today\\'s dicey economic climate, it\\'s harder than ever. These days, targeted digital techniques remain central to any marketing strategy. As a result, in-store media continues to gain acceptance with consumer brands and retailers alike as they experiment to see what works best in a retail environment.

There is no doubt about it: in-store digital marketing is effective. While there is yet to be conclusive research carried out on the subject in the UK, studies across the Atlantic in the US have found that the way consumers respond to in-store promotional messages and media is changing and that retailers need to adapt as a result. Research carried out by retail strategists Miller Zell earlier this year found that more shoppers (32 per cent) rated in-store signage as "very effective" than they did out-of-store advertising including television adverts, billboards and other media (27 per cent).

Likewise, a report from Retail Systems Research in the US, which provided an insight into in-store digital signage from the retailer\\'s point of view, found the medium warmly received. The study discovered that the most successful retailers are already "more likely to rely on technology-driven vehicles like digital signage and store-provided handhelds." And even those retailers which haven\\'t yet implemented the technologies themselves can appreciate their potential. While only 28 per cent of retailers identified a content management system to "enable common information assets across channels and media" as playing a major role in their organisations today, 51 per cent recognised that CMS would be a powerful tool in their marketing armory.

What\\'s more, studies are likely to continue to show that people are responsive to different messages, in different places, at different times of the day. This is one of the benefits of digital signage: flexibility. The retailer has the ability to control what gets shown and when, hopefully prompting a purchase in the meantime. As Geoff Clinton, business development director at marketing management solution company Pierhouse says: "Getting customers to the store is only half the battle." Getting them to spend their money in your store or on your product is another battle entirely.

An important channel

Certainly many a large retailer has been convinced by the merits of in-store media. Wal-Mart is a famous proponent. John Fleming, an executive VP and chief marketing officer at the company, has been reported as saying "the most important media channel we have is our store." He then put his money where his mouth was by announcing Wal-Mart would deploy a multi-channel digital signage network in its 300 Mexican superstores. Trials nearer to home have also proved a success. Amscreen gives the example of a trial of its products in WHSmith stores - outlets with the screen advertising recorded a 5.22 per cent increase in sales of newspaper The Guardian, compared with a 0.3 per cent average increase in the other WHSmith outlets.

As it becomes a tried and tested marketing method, both retailers and brands are becoming convinced of the efficacy of the medium. Traditional marketing and advertising methods remain in general use, but the use of digital signage is becoming more widespread, agrees Nikk Smith, technical director at Pixel Inspiration. "Flagship stores of many major brands are certainly including many digital technologies such as video walls, directional audio, through glass touch screens and LED lighting to enhance the store environment."

And while driving sales through direct promotion of products is a welcome by-product, this is not the only priority, says Smith. "Digital technology can be used more subtly to enhance a store environment, making the shopping experience for customers more enticing, pleasant, exciting, memorable and ultimately adaptable for the retailer." Smith cites the example of a client, Lancme, which has wrapped a pillar at Selfridges in a fine pitch LED video wall, combined with synchronized LED mood lighting.

Naturally, the technology behind all this can be extremely complex not to mention pricey, so companies want to be certain of its efficacy. "Like any tool, it will only perform if it\\'s used correctly," explains Smith. "When utilised to best effect, however, the advantages are numerous." However, the range of product choices can be overwhelming. "The market is a minefield to some extent, purely because of the amount of choice available for software and hardware solutions." While costs are being forced down, Pixel encourages customers to look at the total cost of ownership rather than just considering the initial capital outlay, including the process by which they will update the content. "Maintenance is an entirely different field of expertise and is again best managed by a specialist who can have a holistic view of the entire operational system."

Amscreen, one of the market leaders, offers an integrated solution which is quick and easy to deploy. The hardware just needs to be plugged into a normal power socket. The software isn\\'t much more complicated either - it can be updated remotely and in real-time, online from any PC. A diagnostics system also enables Amscreen to pick up any problems quickly, most of which can then be resolved remotely.

Logistics are just as important as the technology itself. Debate continues to rage about where it is best to display screens - outside the store or inside, and if so where? Smith says that it depends what the retailer has set out to achieve. "Screens at the store front, for instance, are ideal for encouraging footfall whereas screens in store at the point of decision are better suited to sales uplift duties," he reports. Amscreen, on the other hand, has a more specific formula, explains the company\\'s CEO, Simon Sugar. For its close proximity signage the ideal location is at the primary till point within small to medium size stores and in larger stores within specific zones or channels where customers gather for example, newspaper kiosks, high value electrical goods, pharmacy and so on. While Sugar acknowledges that it depends on the store size and layout, he says screens need to be strategically located to attract the maximum number of \\'eyeballs\\' within the maximum period of dwell time available.

The goal of any good in-store media project should be to give consumers the information they need to make sound purchasing decisions. With affordable and easy-to-use options now available, it\\'s no longer a \\'nice to have\\', but is quickly becoming a \\'must-have\\'.

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