Technology to entice customers: what’s in store for AV in retail?

The brick-and-mortar retail market is thriving. Tim Kridel explores how storefronts are using AV to wow passers-by and lure them inside.

Not surprisingly, people couldn’t wait to get back to malls and the High Street once the pandemic finally began to wane. In fact, pent-up demand was so great that 2021’s in-store sales exceeded 2019’s, according to Intelligence Insider, which expects growth to continue between 2.6% and 3.4% through 2025.

But success isn’t guaranteed. Like before the pandemic, retailers still must grab the attention of passers-by so they’ll come inside and spend money. More than ever, retailers see AV playing a key role in wowing shoppers and competing against e-tailers.

"More and more we see flagship stores that focus on providing an extraordinary experience rather than just the sales," says Natalia Szczepanczyk, Holoplot segment manager for experiential and immersive applications. "Shopping isn’t a necessity anymore. We can order anything we need at the click of a button. Instead, retailers are creating destinations. Shoppers go to browse, to meet friends or as a family day out. If they enjoy the experience, they will return time and time again, which is a key aspect of long-term revenue generation. Audio plays its part in this."

So does video. Although retailers have been using storefront digital signage, videowalls and projection for decades, many are upgrading those technologies to help stand out from the pack.  

“LED walls provide a canvas where dynamic content can wow customers on a large scale,” says Rachel Hunt, Unicol marketing director. “This is not new, but the race to a high-resolution image is gaining momentum with new micro-LED technology. Unicol has already designed mounts for the new all-in-one, ultra-large LED screens that will define the future of large displays.”

In a CBRE survey of EMEA retailers, 57% said they plan to add stores. One reason why is because people spend more at a retailer’s website when they can visit its local store, too.

“Nothing defines a retail brand more sharply than its physical stores,” says Matt Hawley, Pixel Artworks senior account manager. “Store frontages have become immersive windows into the brand, generating PR and word-of-mouth in the process. Interactive displays — such as incorporating LED screens, volumetric displays, smart mirrors and holograms influenced by gesture recognition technologies paired with spatial audio — can create engaging experiences that attract attention and encourage brand interactions.“


Leveraging smartphones

But storefront AV can’t intrigue and inspire people who aren’t passing by. One way to maximise its impact and thus ROI is by leveraging the digital signage network in a mall or shopping district. Compelling content there can help lure shoppers who otherwise might not venture over.

“One interesting area is programmatic platforms to look at live footfall data and where the mobile phones are within buildings or retail areas,” says Catherine Morgan, Ocean Labs managing director. “If most of the footfall is on the other side of the shopping centre, you can buy and trigger ads programmatically based on trying to drive that footfall to where your stores are.”

Michael Kors hosted an immersive window experience at La Rinascente in Milan, Italy. Taking over the iconic department store’s walkway and windows, across from the Duomo, the experience transports passersby to the island of Capri at sunset while showcasing the brand’s Summer 2023 fashion. Inspired by Capri’s idyllic Marina Grande, the projected illusion created with immersive experience studio Pixel Artworks invites visitors to stroll along the harbor’s wooden dock at sunset as waves lap gently against the pontoons and tiny fish glint in the sea. 


This scenario also highlights the kinds of know-how that AV firms need if they want to do more than just hang displays and loudspeakers. For example, a comprehensive portfolio of storefront AV solutions might include knowing how to get the footfall data, such as from the shopping centre’s Wi-Fi operator.

“One of the few good things we've seen come out of Covid is the increased adoption of QR codes and the familiarity of the public with them and their uses,” Morgan says. “We've certainly seen an increase in brands using QR codes within their creative to drive footfall to store. We did a great campaign for Lacoste in November of last year where they had an experiential space in Westfield. People take photographs in a little booth that was branded Lacoste. They could post a really flattering photograph to take part in the challenge, and the best images appeared on the screens.”

The campaign also included a digital treasure hunt where shoppers scanned a QR code on screen and then used their phone to see digital objects in augmented reality. 

“Some of them you clicked on, and it might be a free sample of their latest perfume [or] a whole bottle,” Morgan says. “We had about 92,000 unique visitors taking part, and I think we had over 17,000 samples of perfume redeemed. That's a great way to interact with brands and drive them into the retailer.”


Standing out from the competition

Audio can attract passers-by with music that creates a mood or with sounds that grab their attention — if they can knife through the cacophony of a busy street or mall.

"With Holoplot 3D Audio-Beamforming, a single Holoplot Matrix Array can generate multiple sound fields simultaneously – each with its own content, equalization, level, shape, and position and minimal spill between each other," Szczepanczyk says. "Unlike conventional audio solutions, our audio objects can appear to be far away or whisper in your ear. We showcase this feature at our demos by firing a whisper across the room with all participants lining up in a row to catch the words. Step to the sides and you lose the audio.”

These steered, focused beams have a second benefit: they keep audio from spilling into adjacent storefronts, which could prompt those tenants to crank up their volume, raising the whole area’s noise floor.

“Sound beams can be used to create a directional audio stream that can be aimed at a specific location, such as the area outside of a store,” Szczepanczyk says. “This could be used to grab shoppers’ attention, share information and entice them to come closer, all without adding to the general noise floor that can easily overwhelm people.”

They also can be visually overwhelmed as more retailers leverage digital signage and projection mapping.

“As the shopping streets are more filled with displays these days, attracting people to your store has become a bigger challenge,” says Loek Wermenbol, First Impression retail strategy director. “The solution is not only to make these displays and the published content bigger and louder. If you are not distributing relevant, perfectly designed and curated content (video, animated content and audio) in relation to the purpose, it will not trigger the crowd to come in. You will just be a part of the canvas in the shopping district. But, if you have a well-thought-over solution with a clear purpose, including the perfect content, you will stand out of the crowd.”

Credit: First Impression audiovisual | First Impression audiovisual installation for Pink Gellac

One example is “phygital,” which combines the digital and physical realms. 

“By placing one hero product in your shop window in a unique and phygital way, it will generate more attraction power than a huge LED display with mismatching content,” Wermenbol says. “Also, adding interactivity will make content stand out, [such as] advertisements that move along with the walking direction of the customer to attract attention. This kind of interactivity always stands out from digital displays that get lost among all the other standard screens.”


Tailor shop

Another way to grab attention is by serving content tailored to each passer-by. This could be based on demographic information using cameras installed for loss prevention, or dedicated ones.“

“There are analytics that can do age and gender predictions and things of that nature,” says James Stark, Axis Communications retail segment development manager. “I experimented with some of this stuff in 2017-2018 when I was with Pier 1 Imports [overseeing loss prevention]. You really need to be sensitive to privacy when you're doing things like this and be aware of laws [such as] GDPR.”

One option is to analyse the demographic data to understand if the existing content resonates with the target types.

“Sometimes we think we know who our customer is based on age and gender and this and that, but what is the actual data telling you?” Stark says. “You can watch the customers’ interactions, so you get into sentiment. How did they react to it? Were they neutral? Were they happy? Were they confused?” 

The increasing sophistication of artificial intelligence (AI) creates additional opportunities.

“Real-time generative content within the exterior retail environment provides the opportunity for adaptations to differing audiences via open sourced machine learning through programs such as Unity and TouchDesigner alongside camera tracking technologies,” Hawley says. “Such innovation and investment would allow for AI-driven analytics, utilising AI algorithms to analyse real-time data from cameras or sensors to determine demographics or even emotions, enabling dynamic content adaptation to suit different individuals or groups.”

Kaspars Grinvalds/

Like smartphone data and QR codes, these applications are more examples of how retail AV is evolving. Integrators, vendors and consultants can evolve to pick up additional business.

“The AV industry in retail is slowly transforming from a tech into a communications business because we have a big part in making (retail) brand experiences a success,” says Hadewig Both, First Impression CTO. “Therefore, we must change the way we think. Communicating as ‘personal’ as possible is the goal on the shop floor. The way to succeed is to know who you are communicating with. We either have to identify them or they have to make themselves known.”


Making the sale

Although retailers large and small are sold on storefront AV, each type has its own set of goals, which affects the technologies they choose.   

“Larger retailers may view these technologies as solid investments to enhance their brand image, create brand experiences for their audiences and ultimately drive foot traffic to their retail spaces,” Hawley says. “Smaller retail chains or pop stores may perceive the value differently due to budget constraints or limited awareness of the possibilities compared to other sales driven mediums.  

“Providing case studies, ROI analyses and showcasing success stories from similar businesses can help decision makers better understand the value proposition and make informed decisions about including it within their planned brand activity. Additionally, offering scalable solutions and flexible pricing options tailored to different business sizes can make AV systems more accessible to a wider range of retailers.” 

“Sometimes the hardest part is convincing the client to do something ‘different than his neighbour,’” says First Impression’s Both. “Of course, there are regulations, often different in every city, what you can and can’t do with video and audio in the public space. Creating a solution tailored to that specific location is ideal, but clients with hundreds of outlets are also looking at scalability, manageability and a universal look and feel — conflicting interests that can be a challenge. These kinds of challenges are often a lot bigger than the ones concerning technology.”

But for retailers willing to push the envelope, there’s no shortage of options.

"I see retail spaces as becoming more and more interactive or even gamified in the future," Szczepanczyk says. "Items could start ‘talking’ as they’re being picked up. Mirrors could start dishing out compliments when you step in front of them. The possibilities are endless."

Top image credit: William Barton/

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