Window shopping

AV technology can influence the habits of the spending public by creating mood and arousing interest. InAVate goes shopping for answers and speaks to those finding success in the retail market.

Many of us in the AV industry have heard the stories and comments about the now infamous “TescoTV”, and how it has evolved. To the point where although the project has been regarded as a ‘questionable’ success, a simple visit to one of their stores will prove that the global retail giant is persevering with it. So there must be something in it: some benefit that Tesco is deriving, even if the truth, whilst ‘out there’ is hard to find. What is clear is that many other retailers and shopping centres also find in-store AV systems to be worthwhile and there is a wide range of application and content presented. Enough variation across the high street to delight, confuse, bore, excite, mislead and entice the customer in a single shopping trip.

Retail AV ranges from simple, loud and brash in-store music presentations for the youth market through interactive catalogues to brand and lifestyle promotion for the high-end sophisticate in the fashionable shopping districts of Europe’s capitals. Retail AV is as much about the experience as the content; as much about its presence as its message. The real question is: does it generate revenue, loyalty or some other benefit that will bring customers back to the store in the future?

Seamless plasma screen walls are rapidly gaining a hold in shopping malls throughout Europe. A typical installation carried out by Innovative Communication Technology in Ansbach, Germany, included a 4 x 4 wall covering 14m² to provide world news, local offers and brand advertising. Pre and post installation surveys have recorded a positive increase in demand for products advertised on the wall, thereby justifying their installation cost.

Nowadays a large proportion of our shopping is undertaken in shopping centres. Bluewater, the UK’s largest has over 300 shops and is currently installing a series of 20, 46” plasma screens for general information. As the host site for resident shops, Bluewater’s role is to inform and entertain visitors with an experience that will make them want to return. The new plasma screens are to be ‘themed’ in acrylic housings with blue LED backlighting, making them more attractive as display devices than a standard square-edge display. The screens will provide promotional information on the stores within the centre, opening times and local transport information, as well as brand and store advertising.

As a designer and manufacture of a range of standard and custom brackets, Unicol are frequently involved in installations and are in good position to spot market trends and identify the areas where the market is strong. Robert Seaward of Unicol explains the current market characteristics: “Bespoke installations, like the new Bluewater thematic network are appearing across the industry aimed at attracting viewers’ attention to the screen. Once there, the content takes over with a mixture of attractive, appealing visual effects and video sequences interspersed with local information.” This is a strategy observed too by Peter Topping, MD of DVS, who supply playout devices and systems, that have been installed at large retail stores such as Top Shop and World Duty Free shops at international airports. “We are involved in providing systems and working with content creators to provide visual statements, that entice customers into stores and then subtly inform them of new products, ranges and services. Bombarding customers with continuous music videos is as bad as with constant adverts. A mix of the two is ideal to entertain and inform, rather than sell to customers, as they are becoming more resilient to the mass of marketing messages around.”

The associated audio stream is hugely important. Video soundtracks and audio messages do not work as continuous streams and must reflect the mix of content. Peter Topping “Good quality music that people enjoy listening to will keep them in the shop and bring them back, but the wrong type of music or bad quality reproduction will drive them away, never to return.”

Soundlounge, a consultancy specialising in selecting and providing music for a variety of public events, including the Tory party conference sees the choice of music as important as other aspects of branding including product design, packaging and the way it is marketed. Ruth Simmons, soundlounge MD explains: ”Selection of the right type of music has the potential to create a real connection with the customer. Music is very emotional and should be used to link a product to a customer’s mood by creating a desire that is every bit as potent as the message conveyed by visual advertising. Every brand has its unique DNA; all the elements that make up the brand or product. Soundlounge has identified the ways to understand the brand's music DNA and how to bring it into the mix so that when you put them all together you start to convey the real value to the customer, which leads to purchase. Conversely, assaulting them with constant jingles, the manager's favourite tracks, audio-visual wallpaper or the wrong type of any sound, can destroy any relationship you may hope to build by creating a state of confusion, mistrust and may drive them away.”

Another issue driving the quality of audio reproduction is the need for clear and audible voice communication. Stores make customer announcements on a regular basis and the clarity of these is essential; large shopping centres must comply with EN 60849, which includes regulations on voice evacuation systems. Stanislas Boivin-Chameaux of Sound Directions provides a range of wide-dispersion and directional loudspeakers together with a service, that allows dealers to investigate the level and equipment required for a specific installation. ”Using Speech Transmission Index simulation software we can model a department store or shopping centre and specify the exact equipment required to achieve the necessary level of clarity around the building and ensure that there are no dead areas. This is important for in store promotional messages and critical when the system is used for building evacuation.”

Many stores use in-store AV to deliver an ambience linking their brand to a particular lifestyle, often associated closely with variable lighting programming; referred to in some circles as ‘ambionics’, although the word is yet to make it to the OED. Audiovisual content and lighting levels are adjusted during the course of the day matching customer moods and assisting them in entering an emotional state conducive to purchasing. Top-of–the-range brands such as Armani and Chanel present content reflecting their product as a lifestyle statement. Chanel have fitted out two of its European stores with three-screen plasma displays within purpose built cabinetry. Video sequences show catwalk models, logos, watches and other Chanel products and are largely monochromatic and soundless to reflect the brand image, bringing life, movement and yet more glamour to the interior of the shops. Kevin Higgs of H Squared who installed the screens explains the client brief: “Chanel asked us to propose a low-key way of showing their products as they change each season in a way that is discrete and unobtrusive. By incorporating the screens into the fixtures and fittings of the shop we were able to remove the overpowering presence often found when plasma screens are bolted directly onto a wall.” Mark Jones of Wow Factor observes a similar trend, and was involved in the Bodymetrics installation at Harrods: ”Bodymetrics is a combined rear projection-on-glass and state of the art 360 degree scanning system. The customer views a video sequence portraying clothes in a real, meaningful manner; not just on a catwalk, and is then measured by the scanning device which takes their exact measurements in three dimensions, from which clothes are manufactured. The result is a fully finished, bespoke suit delivered to their door a few weeks later.” The use of rear projection screens, very high quality audio and short promotional loops of three to five minutes reinforces the high quality, design-oriented status of the brand in a stylish, subtle way that persuades rather than shouts and intimates the brand values to the customer that the manufacture aimed to achieve.

The retail boom in Ireland is providing a significant boost to the AV industry there. Sound Vision Ireland and its sister company Mood Media provide integrated solutions across a wide client base. Richard Skelton, Commercial Director explains the current philosophy of their retail clients: ”Our clients demand high quality, tailor made systems and content and won’t settle for substandard solutions. We offer a tri-sense package with audio, video and scent generation that allows stores to be filled with sights, sounds and smells aligned to their brand positioning. It is currently all about differentiation: systems that set individual stores apart means that they are willing to consider and pay for high quality installations and ongoing content and service solutions.”

Significant academic research has been undertaken by universities into the effects of music and video content on brand loyalty. A study conducted by Leicester University professors Adrian North and David Hargreaves found that over 90% of consumers are more likely to remember a brand if it is paired with music that fits the brand identity. In addition 24% are more inclined to purchase items linked with music they remember and enjoy. These principles are developed into dedicated and tailored audio-visual content by Cube Music, a company that has recently become a part of the Immedia Broadcasting Group headed by the ex-Radio 1 DJ Bruno Brookes. Immedia Broadcasting pioneered the concept of live presenter-led radio within retail environments to communicate, educate and entertain consumers by directly engaging niche audiences at the point of sale. Immedia client list includes national chains such as Lloyd’s Pharmacy, HSBC, IKEA, and SPAR engaging in total 28 million consumers a week.

Each project involves in-depth research of the target audience demographic, which leads to careful music selection or visual content creation to complement the brand profile and strategic goals required to reach the target market. The aim of this research is to optimise customer enjoyment of each environment and pin point exactly which music tracks are favoured, which songs retain customers and which songs can actually lead to a customer leaving a store. The appropriate content is then produced and broadcast directly to the retail outlets and may comprise a selection of: live and ‘as live’ radio formats, hand picked music services, branding solutions, music video channels, digital signage networks or simply ‘one off’ high quality audio and visual content production services. Fi Ryder, MD of Cube comments: “The core of our proposition is to create tailored media channels for brands to reflect the store environment, appeal to customers and ultimately drive strategic intent within the retail business. We do not believe in pre-compiled loosely-themed genres in pre-selected lists but provide a sound or visual experience that can emotionally engage or tactically reach a consumer.”

The answer to the original question of whether AV in retail generates revenue, loyalty or other benefits is yes to all; and it is evolving:
incorporating sophisticated content and technology rapidly and beginning to address consumer psychology and thought processes in a similar way to that observed in store layout and design within the more go-ahead retail chains.

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