AV shopping spree

What are the current applications of audiovisual technologies in the retail sector? Much has been written about digital signage, but is it fulfilling its potential? InAVate finds out.

A few years ago many AV industry pundits forecast a rapid boom in the application of the newly emerging flat panel technology in the retail environment. This they did with great enthusiasm and confidence; not only would plasma screens transform the shopping environment, but would provide abundant work for installers, media providers and manufacturers. However, that boom failed to materialise at the sort of rate and level predicted. Instead a slower, more steady increase has been observed to the point where current penetration levels are at a fraction of those originally predicted and in-store displays systems have come and gone as business models and delivery mechanisms have been proven to be successful or not.

At the current time, digital signage is evolving and maturing as an application to the point where it is a recognised product sector, covering a section of the total AV application spread, covering the network-based delivery and scheduling of graphics and textual information to arrays of screens. Much has already been written about digital signage; its application, justification and use. It is one of a number of elements of the total delivery of audiovisual content to the retail space that are equally as important and influence the market and shopping environment to the better.

One of the current buzz-words in this sphere is ‘experience’: relating to the overall atmosphere and environment of the location and generating a positive memory in the visitor, hopefully contributing to their desire to spend money and to return subsequently. Jos den Hartog, Sales and Marketing Director of Hecla AV in the Netherlands explains: “Shopping malls are becoming more and more interesting and exciting, offering entertainment and attractions to draw customers in. The owners perceive that by creating an experience customers will want to come back regularly and one of the ways is to appeal to children, so that they insist on visiting for a treat. In a shopping centre recently we installed a kiosk within a clown so that pressing parts of the body, such as the nose caused visual effects and movement to happen. There was also an ‘Urban Music Spotter’ that linked a motion-detecting camera with a pipe organ so that sounds could be created by children jumping or moving in different ways through hotspots. The parents now complain because their children want to go every Saturday.” Other examples exist where products are linked to interactive AV systems such as the motorcycle and projection system allowing potential customers to experience the thrill of riding a bike on the open road, within the shop. Hecla has also been involved in providing complete theatres within malls and shops. Typically they are used to present products in a more formal environment, one such installation was in a fashion store, enabling live and recorded fashion shows to be held, as well as providing locations and amenities for internal staff training.

Where networked digital signage has been most successful is in applications where multiple brands are offered at a single store, allowing multi-brand advertising to offset the initial capital equipment cost and providing an ongoing revenue stream to fund the system. Pharma Channel in the Netherlands operates a network of 150 in-store displays providing product information, medicinal and cosmetic advice and information for national brands as well as display time which can be utilised by the store themselves, via a simple-to-use web page upload facility. The system is display neutral, in that it can be delivered by almost any type of display device, which currently includes small TFT panels, larger plasma screens, projectors and rear projection-holo screens. Geroen de Grave, Marketing Manager for the operator, Adchannel, comments “It takes initial effort to convince advertisers to subscribe to the system, but once there they generally find that this type of narrow casting to a targeted, dedicated audience is more effective than broadcast advertising. We have plans in place to extend the network to over 400 screen locations in the next few months.”

Similar partnerships exist in shopping malls around the world. Shopping City South, located in Vösendorf, near Vienna includes several large LCD screens of 40 and 46” sizes within its 225,000 Square metres of floor space. These are owned and operated by the media company EPA Media working in conjunction with the equipment provider Mitsubishi and the mall owner SCS. Peter Shurig, Presentation Sales Manager for Mitsubishi explains their use: “The screens are funded by the media company, with the display time shared on an equal basis with the mall owner. So the screens are used for general brand advertising through EPA Media combined with entertainment, information and news about the centre and its surrounding area provided by the mall owner. This ensures that the displays contain topical information to generate interest as well as providing an advertising platform for revenue generation and to fund their operation.” Klaus Kuso represents the project on behalf of EPA Media “For the first few months advertising agencies were acting very conservatively and not recommending this to their clients. However after detailed surveys of the demographics of mall visitors, who number 22 million per year, we were able to convince them of the efficacy of the medium. So now we have large brands advertising on the screens, including Burger King, L’Oreal ad Volvo, who ran a campaign in conjunction with a promotion within the mall. The screens run advertising and information, including news, weather, sport etc, on a 50-50 basis, generating interest and exposure to the adverts. Although visitors do not stop and watch as they would in a restaurant, people are actively absorbing the material as they walk around.”

Whilst audiovisual systems are becoming more intrinsically attractive and of many forms, it is still very much a case of ‘content is king’. Different locations, stores, customer bases and environmental applications call for a range of content styles and formats; a point considered by Steve Dunn, Marketing Director of tsg. “We have a wide and varied client base, including many household and familiar names across the whole gamut of applications. They include Hugo Boss, Iceland and Grattan, each of whom require different types of material to entice their customers, whether that is music alone, music video, ambient media or promotional content. Grattan, for example operate a massive catalogue discount store in Bradford that utilises large screens as brand and product discount information displays – similar in style to the large printed point-of-sale cards on clothing racks. Their role is to inform customers of offers in order to stimulate sales of largely end-of-line products, which are heavily discounted for quick turnover. Designer labels, on the other hand may use in-store displays to associate lifestyle and image to their clothes, so are much less informative but more stylised”. All forms have their place and it is important for retailers to understand why the media is being used and how best to present it. Steve Dunn: “Our promedia MMS media management system is used to deliver, schedule and manage all forms of audiovisual content, originated either by the client or their agency or through candyrock, our own media programming division. It enables users to tailor content and delivery to their exact requirements. Often clients will come to us for advice and assistance in how best to create that content, based on our broad range of expertise servicing different types of application. However it comes down to three things: entertain, educate and inform, although the proportion of changes from customer to customer. Grattan for example present more information than entertainment as their customers are ready to purchase, they just need detail on what is on offer at that time. Elsewhere, customers, may be browsing and need to be tempted to purchase through lifestyle association developed through entertainment, but requiring less product information.” The education aspect is more pertinent in the promotion of complex products such as car showrooms and estate agencies. “Car dealerships can sometimes be intimidating places and it helps to have something familiar to relate to, such as the current advert, which can be supplemented by additional product details in an entertaining and attractive manner. Taking it further, audiovisual presentations can be can be utilised to stress the competence of service departments whilst they have a customer’s car, thereby instilling greater confidence”.

Audiovisual systems are expensive and in the world of retail where costs are trimmed as much as possible, systems are not installed without considerable care and thought. Even so, it is saddening to see missed opportunities on a regular basis. As in the commercial world where office reception areas are often equipped with large screens tuned solely to Sky News or Reuters with no corporate show reel extolling the virtues of the company, many retailers install equipment and run inappropriate material. Simply playing continuous sports clips in a sports shop does little to promote the product range. Systems are now emerging however that include interactivity and can be linked to other systems such as EPOS terminals, allowing data mining so that retailers can evaluate their customers and react accordingly. By linking a presentation with an interactive kiosk or through-glass touch panel customer demographics can be determined for all hours of the day. Nexus Digital Signs consider the ability to identify the type of customer present in a particular store during the day as a major benefit to retailers. Darren Colclough, Marketing and Client Services Manager for Nexus: “By identifying exactly when business customers are present as opposed to personal buyers allows a shop to run specific adverts and messages and promote the appropriate product range. This can be done on a national basis for a chain store allowing a greater level of information to be obtained so that the retailer ca really drill-down on the information and understand their client base.”

Nexus is responsible for the installation of two large video walls at the Paradise Forum shopping centre in Birmingham, with two 5 x 3 video walls using the new NEC 4620 slimline LCD panel. In a staged programme, the screens will be used initially to show advertising, live TV, RSS news and weather, products and social information creating content a compelling reason to view. Sound showers will be added so that audio can be delivered in localised areas and at a later stage, interactivity will be incorporated. Darren Colclough: “The screens will be linked to Bluetooth transmitters to enable customers to download information directly to their phones and develop a one-to-one relationship between the advertiser and visitor, delivering for example, special offers and film times, linked to the content of the screens. As a direct benefit it will be possible to record visitor details through their active acceptance of the Bluetooth transmissions so that visitor return data can be calculated and amortised over the 15 million customer visits throughout the course of a year.”

Whilst it has been a long time coming, comprehensive audiovisual technology is entering the retail market in volume. In the future we should expect to see a greater emphasis on the content, together with interactive applications. In particular it is likely that there will be a greater emphasis on product tie-ins where lifestyle products are presented together by non-competing, same target suppliers. Steve Dunn: “Our experience is that many of our clients will readily participate in other retailers campaigns where there is a definite synergy and common customer base; such brands as Audi and Mulberry could benefit greatly allowing the entertainment aspects of one to reinforce the promotional activities of the other. We’ve seen product-placement activity in Hollywood films, why should that not happen in advertising campaigns?”

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