Digital Signage in Retail: a Look into the Future

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Apr 24 2014, Posted by InReality

I’ve given quite a few presentations on the subject of digital signage. During these presentations, I occasionally ask participants this question: can you remember any occasion where a place-based digital sign was so integral to the experience that you couldn’t imagine having had that experience without it?

Invariably, I receive a blank stare, at which point, I usually go on to give them my answer: flight information displays at the airport.

Since many of us check in online, there is no reason for us to go to the ticket counter (unless we’re checking bags). This convenience grants us direct access to the security line. Once we’re through, it’s on to our gate, but which gate? A quick glance at a flight information display provides the answer. In my opinion, this makes flight information displays the most value-driven application of digital signage in a given location.

At this point, someone may point out an experience at a hotel or museum where directions offered on a display allowed for quick navigation through a space.

Rarely does anyone mention retail.

It got me thinking, what if retail spaces delivered this same level of value with regard to digital experiences? What would that look like or require? Furthermore, is it possible that at some point in the future, we would decide whether to shop at store A or store B simply based on the level of technology provided?

Defining the digital needs & expectations of the shopper

Flight information displays are successful because they fill a very specific role and serve a very specific need. But what are the needs and expectations of a shopper in a retail store that a digital element could fulfill? Product information? Pricing? Inventory? Product reviews?

It’s not as simple to define. In today’s competitive and ever-evolving landscape, it is important that retail stores create a seamless and meaningful customer experience across all physical and digital channels. This requires leveraging the appropriate digital elements with an integrated retail strategy that combines: physical space, processes, talent, marketing and merchandising to meet customer needs.

However, there is something else the retail store might want to consider. As the online world continues to mushroom, what role will the physical store play in the future? For example, should the retail store embrace showrooming rather than combat it? Or, should stores provide free wifi? This new role may define new shopper needs and expectations of integral digital elements in retail.

The need for seamless digital integration

If we think back to flight information displays, we find that regardless of the airport, the layout of information is easy to grasp and fairly intuitive.

This brings us to the next challenge, digital integration. Digital experiences in retail shouldn’t be digital solely for the purpose of being digital, nor should they come with the added burden of learning a new interface. Similar to the visceral flow of websites, digital elements should be seamlessly integrated to offer a value-driven retail customer experience—one that meets the needs and expectations of customers in a way that is quick and easy to digest.

Retail stores, like all public spaces, will continue to add digital elements. However, as the role of the physical retail space continues to shift, the use of digital elements should complement the new needs and expectations of the customer in a way that is seamlessly integrated into the customer experience. Crafting these kinds of experiences requires intentional customer experience planning, design and execution. However, retailers and brands that focus on crafting these kinds of intentional, digitally-enhanced customer experiences in retail stand to gain the most.

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  • Retail digital signage

    This is a great point, and often when I try to describe digital signage to people it is easiest for me to start with the airport example as well. Then they understand all of the different places they have seen similar applications. The real hangup I have for retail–particularly big box stuff like Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, even grocery stores–is that when you do see it, you see it for the wrong reasons. There are natural questions that people have in these spaces, and some of those questions can be answered with a kiosk computer. In fact many of them. The trick–not even a hard trick–is to figure out what those questions are, and then how to answer them. But, in my humble opinion, they should not be used in place of live, personal help. They should be used as an option to live, personal help.

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