Thursday, December 11, 2008

RetailWire: Research Shows Impulsive Displays of Consumer Buying Behavior Still Exist

By George Anderson, Editor, RetailWire

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from one of RetailWire's recent online discussions. Each business morning on RetailWire.com, retail industry executives get plugged in to the latest news and issues with key insights from a "BrainTrust" of retail industry experts.

Retailers may be engaged in markdown mania but research from OgilvyAction concludes that if they really want to move product they need to get it out on secondary displays.

The agency's research, which included interviews with 6,000 shoppers across multiple retail channels in February and March found that 29% of consumers made unplanned purchases when going to a store. Of those, 24% were influenced by displays to purchase while 18% cited in-store sampling and 17% mentioned a price promotion.

39% of shoppers said they entered a store with plans to purchase from a category but not a specific product. Thirty-one percent of those consumers were influenced to buy by sampling, 28% by price promotion and 27% by some other form of promotion.

Impulse purchases using displays were most likely to occur in convenience stores where just below 50% acknowledged buying a product they had not intended to when entering the store.

While the research points to the power of displays, the reality is that secondary displays are often stocked with discounted products.

"We know price promotion will always be in the picture for any shopper," Jeff Froud, senior strategic planner with OgilvyAction, told AdAge.com. "They will always say they don't want to feel like they're getting ripped off."

The RetailWire BrainTrust board generated quite a lot of buzz around the topic of price promotion and in-store merchandising. “Shoppers vote billions of times every day in stores across the country on what they want, and where they want to go to get it. It's really not that complicated,” said Herb Sorensen, Global Scientific Director, Shopper Insights at TNS Sorensen. “But if you think you can eke out a few more sales by pushing lots of stuff they are not interested in, in front of them (hold them in the store a little longer, hide what they want in a sea of irrelevant--to them--offers) you are cutting your own throat, and richly deserve to have a growing body of savvy competitors eat your lunch.”

Anne Howe, Sr. VP of Market Intelligence at MARS Advertising, added that it is important to make all merchandising and store layouts impactful. “In a nutshell, the concept is that many retailers could see more by keeping shoppers in the store for less time rather than more time. A well organized store that doesn't make a shopper have to spend 50% of her time "searching" the shelves might be more valid.” Howe said.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Kiosk, Digital Signage Expos Showcase New Customer Engagement Solutions

Looking ahead to one of the most challenging holiday seasons in more than a decade, retailers are taking a harder look at innovative ways to engage the customer and optimize the in-store experience. With retailers striving to up the ante in-store and online, solution providers pushed the envelope by unveiling cutting edge technology at last week's KioskCom Self Service and Digital Signage Expo in New York’s Javits Center.

Interactivity, self-service and streamlining information were some of the key themes at the shows. Innovations at the shelf-edge, new tools to collect and measure customer feedback as well as applications which help retailers engage through their mobile devices were just some of the solutions debuted. Retail TouchPoints walked the aisles of both shows and the following report highlights some of the ground-breaking tools that made waves at the events:

Smart Shelf Technology
Marketing experts emphasize that messaging is more powerful when it’s relevant and timely. The folks at Nanonation say Smart Shelves do just that—deliver a message to the consumer at the point of interest to inform and engage. Consumers can pick up a product and be instantly greeted with pertinent information and insights delivered through digital screens and intelligent triggers. The application is dual purpose, as it works to provide employees with timely, consistent and in-depth information to enhance their training and selling ability.

Customer Feedback Management

Cleva Technologies debuted Xit Poll, which is currently deployed in Filene’s Basement stores. The solution is a whole new take on exit polling. To help retailers attain valuable and relevant information, the Xit Poll combines a versatile platform with a user-friendly Web-based data management system. The wireless device can be placed in any area of the store, as it gathers real-time data to provide intelligence on each user’s shopping experience. In addition to its survey capability, the Xit Poll has an interactive map which enables retailers to manage the device based on geographic location.

Smartphone Integration

Addressing the huge expansion of iPhones and other mobile devices, Intava announced the integration of smartphone technology to marry mobile phones with in-store digital signage to inform and communicate with customers, not only in the in-store environment, but beyond. The integration is designed to offer retailers the opportunity to deliver any in–store interactive system or marketing campaign to a variety of smartphones, including Apple’s iPhone. With Intava’s new smartphone solution, retailers can create personalized, mobile interactions to be used within the store environment, delivering promotions, marketing messages and product information directly to the mobile phone.

Home Scanner
Retail TouchPoints previously reported on the Ikan grocery scanning device. The company showcased the second generation device, the Ikan v2, which now offers a more compact, touch screen version. Offering consumers a chance for engagement in their own kitchen, the device facilitates shopping list building via the countertop device. Ikan plans to add weekly circular, personalized specials and coupons to the device interface, designed to help retailers drive incremental sales by having these features accessible to the consumer right in their kitchen.

High-Touch Service

Experticity and NCR announced their partnership to offer a new channel in customer support. The retail-specific solution engages shoppers at the point of purchase with high quality, live video customer support. Rather than having to ask a sales associate for help, or find product information on their own, shoppers can interact with a live person through video. Remote expert service agents-- supplied by the retailer, consumer goods manufacturer or a third party-- can be accessed by the shopper. NCR's team will now stage, deploy and support the Experticity platform.

TableTop Dining Solution
Casual dining restaurants can address their turnover rates and customer satisfaction initiatives with the first pay-at-the-table & digital promotion solution, from Dallas, TX-based startup TableTop Media. The device is designed to increase table turns by enabling customers to split checks, email and/or print receipts and offer a digital survey at the end of the meal. The device is fully interactive as it provides nutritional information, displays menu options and can be customized appropriately. If a survey shows evidence of a less-than-perfect experience, restaurant managers can be automatically notified to make a visit to the table, increasing customer loyalty. The device also serves as a form of “infotainment,” where diners can view movie titles and times, and even purchase tickets.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Retailers Work Web 2.0 to Craft Their Own Bailout For Fall and Holiday 2008

Written by Amanda Ferrante

Retailers are expecting Web 2.0 applications to “work it” to help pull out a decent holiday season amid a tough year. In fact, many major retailers are already in full swing with fall campaigns that stressing innovation and customer engagement to spark a bleak economy.

“Value-added services like how to’s and customer product reviews are now considered the norm in the retail industry,” says Doron Levy, president of Captus Business Consulting. “Customers are always looking for resources, especially when it comes to higher priced products, such as cosmetics and electronics. These services build confidence for the customer and can drive them to purchase based solely on the extra information they receive.”

Saks Fifth Avenue is taking Levy’s advice to heart. As part of its fall promotional campaign, Saks Fifth Avenue is pulling out an arsenal of Web 2.0 tactics to engage and entertain online customers. Saks.com offers a video catalog called “Fashion in Action,” which treats cosmetic shoppers to step-by-step instructions on proper skin care, makeup application, and combining scents. The new element is designed to give customers a “real sense of the product,” which is a big step forward in the Web 2.0 world, where video is vital.

Among other new Web features, Saks.com developed the Fashion Incubator, “as the source for what’s new, what’s now, what’s next.” Here customers can read up on new featured designers, and shop their collections.

Many retailers have already rolled out the Christmas allocation, while others will implement right before Halloween to try to get a jump on sales. Macy’s Inc. and Costco have already put out holiday merchandise. “There will definitely a sense of Christmas in the air much earlier than previous years,” says Levy. “It will be interesting to see the circulars this seasons and the aggressive promos and price reductions to get inventory moving.”

Levy says Wal-Mart and Target will be aggressive players this holiday season—Target will offer a gift card that doubles as a digital camera.

Hot products make the difference
Since prices have come down on electronic gadgets like MP3 players, smartphones, and LCD TVs, analysts say these items will be hot gift choices this year. “Prices have come down on many of the televisions, making them more accessible to more economic groups,” says Levy. “Video game consoles will also do well, especially since there is improved allocation on Playstation3 and the Wii. Blu ray disc players have also seen some price reductions.”

As part of its marketing campaign, Bloomingdale’s is integrating music into print advertisements, email messages, catalogs, Web site, shopping bags and window displays, bringing the concept to its customers across all channels. The retailers will offer live performances by musicians and bands in stores, in addition to selling artist CDs and DVDs distributed by the Sony Music Label Group division of Sony BMG Music Entertainment.

Jack Hruska, executive vice president for creative services at Bloomingdale’s in New York told The New York Times the music campaign was inspired by the recent fashion trend for clothing inspired by rock and roll, like “rocker t-shirts, skinny pants, leather and siren pants.” But the campaign isn’t limited, as it will include genres like jazz, show tunes, pop and classical in the campaign. Bloomingdale’s plans to include music in its Christmas campaign as well, which is scheduled to start November 20.

One analyst says retailers need to focus on their customers rather than getting “caught up in all the teenage angst of the financial, commodity, political circus.” “Those who put their nose to the grindstone, work the long hours, connect with their customers and shut their mouths about anything related to disappointment, lack or worry will do fine,” says Bob Phibbs of The Retail Doctor.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Personal Shopping Devices Preparing For Tipping Point In Adoption In 2009

Personal shopping devices for consumers are reaching their “tipping point.” With at least one high-profile retailer signaling success with an initial test, experts say 2009 could be the beginning of the handheld device era for grocery, warehouse clubs and pharmacies.

That retailer is Stop & Shop. As a strong regional supermarket chain with a lot at stake in its current rebranding effort, Stop & Shop could have focused on any number of changes to call attention to itself. It shows some confidence that in addition to its new logo, color palette and employee uniforms, Stop & Shop’s publicity effort is highlighting its personal shopping devices.

Called Easy Shop, the device allows consumers to scan, track and bag their purchases as they shop. The software application is provided by Modiv Media; hardware is from Motorola. All parties in the Stop & Shop initiative are playing business models close to the vest. However, Modiv Media’s new CEO Paul Schaut says “we are absolutely saying that we can influence key metrics. We’ve proved that for the last eight months.” Among those metrics Schaut is willing to prove to potential clients: Larger basket size for grocery retailers, higher purchase levels for time-pressed shoppers, more total trips to the store, and higher coupon redemption rates.

The universe of consumer-facing handhelds at retail is still small. According to Retail System Research analyst Paula Rosenblum, it is in the “early adopter phase.” However, employee facing handheld devices and consumer facing devices are ranked numbers two and there by retailers as opportunities fro improving the in-store customer experience. The Stop & Shop rollout is one of the only high profile consumer handheld retail applications. The question is how to drive its success to more chains, and increase the awareness of its capabilities to more consumers.

“The challenge is right now to get these devices into stores,” says Schaut. “I’m very confident that they will be of huge value to retailers, consumer packaged goods companies and consumers. They’re very logical and they provide new touchpoints within the store.”

If they do achieve widespread adoption, retailers should be prepared for handheld devices to affect two key areas. The first is in-store marketing: After signing into the system, targeted marketing programs can be easily sent to consumers based on their past purchase behavior and even their position in the store. That screen can produce coupons for suppliers as well as retailers. It also creates a situation in which in-store marketing becomes competitive. The “at shelf” decision to buy a certain toothpaste, for example, can be disrupted by a wireless message from a competitor.

“When they buy on the Internet consumers are used on having a lot of data at their fingertips,” says IHL: retail analyst Lee Holman. “The handhelds bring that data into the store. You can compare promotions. You can compare competing offers.”

The second is loyalty programs. Motorola industry solutions principal Scott Moreland believes cross-channel retailing will be greatly impacted by handheld devices. He believes loyalty programs, in particular, will be enhanced. Consumers can join the programs more easily, enter recent purchases, see their loyalty point accrual in real time and redeem them immediately.

The business model for the retailer-handheld supplier relationship is starting to get some attention, and attract some controversy. Off the record, suppliers say that many retailers want to have a skin in the handheld game. The “skin” model would mean that suppliers charge retailers very little per unit, and then share a percentage of purchase revenue with the supplier. The straight model would sell the handheld units for full-price, and have no claim on revenues gained by having the handhelds in store. Suppliers would rather see the straight model.

The wild card in the evolution of personal shopping devices is the involvement of CPG companies. Technologies have advanced to the point where a cola brand could alert a valued customer when they come into the store that a sale is on. It could send coupons via the wireless device. It could also send an ad for another brand, and then capture the customer data from registered information. Retailers will want a share of that revenue if it’s called advertising. Hardware suppliers and software solution providers will want to be involved in selling those deals.

To that end Modiv Media recently added Microsoft’s Atlas AdManager to its Modiv Shopper 1.0 and Modiv MediaHub platforms. The Modiv platforms were designed to enable campaign management and media delivery based on scan-and-bag activity. Atlas AdManager expands those targeting opportunities to include media delivery based on real-time activity in-store. For example, a shopper buying hot dogs can now be delivered a message to "remember to buy the ketchup," accompanied by a branded discount. That kind of targeting will be hard to resist for CPG companies, according to Schaut.

“For the future I think this will be an evolution rather than a revolution,” says Schaut. “Retailers need to know that they can make more money through more sales, increase the amount of data they generate for each customer and potentially provide some very valuable impressions for advertisers.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Industry Execs Share Expertise to improve the in-store experience

By Debbie Hauss, Executive Editor

AT&T, Virgin Megastores, Bon-Ton and others present at Customer Engagement Conference

Analyzing customer behavior, implementing the latest technologies and focusing on loyalty are three key strategies that will help retailers across industries and geographies keep the best customers and improve top-line sales.

A number of the retail industry’s top executives shared their own strategies with attendees at the recent Retail TouchPoints Customer Engagement Conference, the retail industry’s first virtual trade show. These sessions and others presented at the August 6, 2008 live event, are available on-demand through October by visiting www.customerengagementevent.com.

The three sessions related to the in-store experience each focused on important aspects of reaching the best consumers more proactively:

Investing in the In-Store Experience at Virgin
A roundtable featuring Robert Fort of Virgin Megastores and Andrew Austin from AT&T brought discussion about implementing technologies such as digital signage, traffic counters and loyalty programs and using mobile technology to communicate with customers and employees.

During the session titled “Investing in the In-Store Experience,” Fort described the entertainment chain’s digital listening stations, the introduction of the Virgin VIP Loyalty Program and the retailer’s use of traffic counters. “We have enhanced the store experienced and created a loyalty program while monitoring in-store behavior,” noted Fort, CIO of Virgin Megastores.

Virgin also focused efforts on the back end, that Fort said directly impacts the overall customer experience. A new data warehouse provides real-time sales information to stores and a recently introduced portal facilitates communication between the home office and each of the 10 Virgin destination stores in the U.S. In addition, a new voice and data network is creating a “unified communication strategy in which stores can communicate rapidly with other stores or the home office,” Fort said.

Moving Mobility Forward at AT&T
AT&T is accessing customer profiles as soon as someone enters the store. “When a customer enters an AT&T store they are greeted by an employee using the AT&T Tilt,” said Andrew Austin, director of retail customer experience at AT&T. “The greeter will sign the customer in and while that customer is exploring the technology offerings in the store, that employee is researching information on the customer.” When it’s time for the customer to be served store staff is prepared with individualized information and promotions for that particular customer.
In a partnership with Microsoft, AT&T has become the first retailer to launch Microsoft Surface, “to fantastic success,” said Austin. At presstime the communications retailer had 50 Success tables set up in 13 stores. At the Surface tables, customers can review features of the products by simply placing them on the table.

AT&T’s goals with its in-store technology are to get the customers to “touch the network,” said Austin. “We help them envision what using the services will feel like…through digital signage, touch screen information stations and experience tables.” The company introduced its first Experience store in Houston in early 2007 and now operates 20 similar stores across the U.S.

Analytics for Customer-Centric Marketing at The Bon Ton
Segmenting customer groups and analyzing macro trends has helped The Bon Ton refine its marketing strategy and position the 280-store department store retailer for future success. The Bon Ton is achieving this by focusing on its best customers.“Some folks shop on a seasonal basis or just in one category, such as cosmetics,” explained Mike Hayes, SVP, The Bon Ton Stores, Inc., during his session titled “Customer Centric Marketing.”
“Ultimately our goal is to move what we call the customers’ ‘lifetime value’ to greater heights, improving their transaction profitability and frequency of shopping,” Hayes said. The Bon Ton program is data-driven by macro trends and demographically defined shopping habits. “We first looked at the macro level – economics, competition, top-line sales and the holiday effect,” said Hayes. That information, combined with outside industry research, helped Hayes describe customer behavior. By determining where the best customers were located geographically, The Bon Ton can refined its marketing and promotional messages to reflect that distribution.

During his presentation, Hayes also addressed how the current economy is affecting The Bon Ton’s marketing plans and he explained how other retailers can implement this type of analytics program.

Taking the Customer Loyalty to the Next Level
“Foot traffic is down in stores worldwide,” said Jon Stine, director of the retail sector for Consumer Products at Cisco Systems, “and retail comes in right next to economy class on airlines for customer experience.” With those two strikes against the industry, retailers must focus on their current and best customers to create loyalty that leads to repurchase intent and repurchase behavior, Stine noted during his session titled “Delivering Winning Retail Customer Experiences.”

Retailers must move forward with the latest technology to compete for customers in today’s environment, Stine notes. “Already 10 percent of today’s consumers are texting each other across the aisles in the store.”

During his presentation Stine described three keys to gaining customer loyalty: the brand promise, shopping stages and touch points. He asked: “Can you as a retailer consistently exceed your customers’ expectations where and when it matters most?”

The brand promise describes who you are as a retailer, Stine said. “Eighty to 90 percent of all retailers offer either dependable quality or quick response/service.” The other 10-20 percent, he noted are the trend or cost leaders. Consumers’ shopping stages consist of: awareness of product need, research and decision-making, purchase and the quality of service received. Finally, the touch points relate to different points of contact with the consumer including the store, the Internet, catalog, contact center or mobile phone.

And although research suggests 75-80 percent of customers are “satisfied,” that doesn’t mean they are loyal. “In only up to 40 percent are loyal and IBM suggests that number is 27 percent in grocery,” noted Stine. “So our goal should be to turn satisfied into loyal customers.”

During his presentation, Stine also addressed IT. “Ask your IT people the question: ‘How quickly can we roll out functionality out to all stores?’ And ask yourself how quickly the competition will pass you before you get it out to all stores.”

Friday, June 20, 2008

New Digital Signage Applications Taking Dynamic Content Down To Shelf Edge

By Andrew Gaffney, Editor/Publisher

Most digital signage implementations in retail have focused on large plasma screens hung high in the store and broadcasting 
video-only content. However, some recent and planned pilots are taking the dynamic messaging capabilities of digital signs down to the shelf edge.

Retail signage and digital publishing solutions provider AccessVia recently partnered with UK-based ZBD Displays, on a pilot with a which allowed a major retailer to convey critical pricing information on a digital display at the shelf edge. By Incorporating ZBD’s epop wireless 'e-paper' display solutions together with AccessVia’s Web dSignShop, the retailer was able to publish the digital signs with all the same benefits and ease of the original paper signage system.

ZBD’s epop solutions represent a new frontier in signage as they provide a smaller shelf-level option that requires zero power and brings the powerful messaging options of digital down to eye level, including dynamic pricing and promotion capabilities.

When one was of its major retail partners was looking to incorporate digital signage into a new in-store concept in the first quarter of this year, AccessVia’s Chief Technical Officer Jonathon Moulton developed and tested a prototype at the company’s Seattle headquarters. Moulton flew to Minneapolis to install the system personally and the system was rolled out within 30 days.

“All of the attention in the digital signage category has been focused on the big plasma screens, which are usually up on the ceiling,” said Dean Sleeper, CEO of AccessVia. “In order to have a real impact on purchases, there is going to have to be more of a floor to ceiling strategy. This recent pilot is one of the first strategies that really brings the power of digital signage down to the shelf level.”

Sleeper also pointed out that the fast turnaround of this pilot has clearly demonstrated opportunity for retailers to realize the cost savings of manually instituting price changes. “Through this pilot we have shown that it can be a seamless transition from printing traditional paper signs to publishing to digital platforms, and the retailer achieves a ton of cost savings and operational efficiency through the redirection of labor,” he said.

On a recent visit to pilot store location, store associates described the consumer response to the shelf-edge digital signage as one of “shock and awe.” Because the digital signs blended in easily with the high-end merchandise, store associates said they “helped lower the sticker shock and validated the investment” consumers were making more effectively than the print price tags used in the rest of the store.

The digital signs utilized in the first few months of the pilot only included the same static price and product information that are listed on their print counterparts. However, the retailer is looking at more dynamic usage of the technology in the future, including potentially adding scrolling screens, rich content descriptions, multi-lingual product information, as well as localized.

Beyond operational benefits and cost savings, ZBD Display’s CEO Clive Mayne added that other retailers are using the shelf edge signs to send more targeted messaging. 

ZBD recently announced that Tesco had ordered 2,500 electronic point of purchase displays (EPOPs) from ZBD for its latest milestone store. Continuing a relationship that has already seen ZBD's displays trialled in two Tesco stores in Central and Southern England, the new orders will be deployed in the dry groceries area.

Tesco's Mike McNamara, Operations Development Director said: “Tesco are pleased to be working again with ZBD for our trial of Electronic Shelf Edge Labels (ESELs). The technology is great for helping to improve our customers' shopping experience and making our store staff’s jobs simpler. From our previous in-store experience we believe ZBD’s ESEL displays can meet these criteria."

Monday, May 12, 2008

In-Store Search Solutions Empowers Shoppers To Navigate Aisles

By Amanda Ferrante, Assistant Editor

Online search has become an integral part of the way consumers shop. The same concept is coming to life for brick-and-mortar retail stores with new and innovative ways to search and navigate. With the buzz centered on the customer experience, it’s become increasingly important for retailers to provide consumers with simple convenience and assistance.

In-Store Navigation Creates More Focused Shopping
For some retailers with complex environments, in-store search kiosks are helping consumers navigate their way through the store to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily. “Customers are increasingly time poor,” says Jim Dion, founder and president of Dionco Inc.. “They don’t have time to wonder through a store; they are targeted. Looking at this consumer need and behavior, in-store search clearly plays in.”

In 135 Longs Drugs Stores, Evincii’s PHARMAssist, a first-of-its-kind technology, is designed to guide and advise shoppers in the over-the-counter medicine category by engaging customers. The kiosk is said to have boosted overall category sales by 3-6%. Advertisers also have seen a boost in overall brand sales as the kiosk allows advertising to engage consumers at the point of sale, with a 7-18% increase. “The search engine can be used in many forms of retail,” says Charles Koo, CEO of Evincii. “What prompted me to do this was my frustration with entering keywords and receiving so many results.”

Many items are competing together on the same shelf. So marketers want to influence consumers at the point of decision. PHARMAssist caters to non-tech savvy users by offering simplicity and ease of use. “Our GPS system is always one or two steps ahead of you, getting you straight to your destination,” says Koo.

PHARMAssist and other products like it will help marketers improve their brand image and loyalty. “There’s a huge opportunity for brands to get involved in educating the customer,” says Dion. “That’s a win-win for everybody...Smart brands will get involved in that.”

Guided Navigation Leads Shoppers to Specific Products
Similar to shopping on the Internet, consumers can get help finding the right product via in-store guided navigation solutions. Endeca’s Guided Navigation solution is designed to help customers in multiple ways. “Guided Navigation is a complement to search – and works in tandem – but is really designed to facilitate exploration and discovery while search is more designed for fact finding,” says Jesse Goldman, Global Retail Industry Lead at Endeca. Rather than confuse or frustrate customers by the plethora of choices during a shopping trip, the solution is designed to ask target questions to further assist. “Guided Navigation does this by revealing next step questions using criteria like price, make, model, features, shopper reviews/rating, etc. So you can fine tune a search or simply browse products by the criteria that matters most to your buying decision,” says Goldman.

In-store search and navigation solutions also can provide retailers with traffic and usage information. Then retailers can tailor their strategies and tactics accordingly. “Reports provide detailed business intelligence to merchants, telling them popular search and browse pathways, effec­tive merchandising options, common ‘drop out’ spots, and missed search­es,” says Goldman. “Reporting helps businesses keep in step with their constantly chang­ing customers by suggesting where to tune merchandising or configure search and navigation options.”

Technology Creates In-Store Changes
New technology typically means a new shift for the in-store environment. With a technology designed to help customers, there’s speculation about how the store associate’s role will change.

“Ultimately, [the technology is] doing the job that a sales associate in the past would have done,” says Dion. “If the business model is designed to eliminate sales associates, then those people must be replaced with some sort of technology. This is a good way of doing that.”

While the technology may cut down on the number of sales associates needed, it will likely never completely replace them. So, the remaining store associates can use the technology to make their jobs easier, says Dion. “They no longer have to know where every item is located, and it will help improve their search with customers – almost like a cheat sheet.”

Some industry executives are hesitant to predict the technology will cut down on the need for store associates. “It's doubtful that search technology will have any impact upon store staffing, since most retailers already use the fewest possible payroll hours,” says Mark Lilien, consultant with Retail Technology Group. “American shoppers are self-service habitu├ęs who get their in-store information by glancing at labels. Shoppers who really value research do Internet queries at home, or talk to their doctors and friends.”

Monday, March 17, 2008

Digital Signage Category Steps In To Spotlight With New Alliances, Measurement Tools

By Andrew Gaffney, Editor

The sophistication and maturity of digital signage technologies and media networks continues to advance at retail. New solutions and strategic partnerships debuted at the recent Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas, which are expected to make the in-store media channel easier to validate and manage for media buyers, who are looking for alternatives to standard broadcast buys.

If attendance at the Digital Signage Expo event is an indication of future investments in digital signage networks, the in-store experience is primed for a significant upgrade this year. The February show drew over 3,400 attendees, a 70% increase over the 2007 event, which was held last May.

“It really felt as though attendance was double what it has been in past years and retailers were asking intelligent questions,” said Brian Dusho, Chief Strategy Officer for BroadSign, a leading provider of hosted software for managing digital signage networks, and one of the top sponsors of the event. “The education level of attendees was very high this year, and the discussions really pointed to the market seeing the type of acceleration we’ve all been waiting for.”

PROOF OF CONCEPT

BroadSign used the event to announce several new partnerships which are expected to make digital signage more accessible to small to midsized retailers, and also make placing advertising on in-store networks easier and more appealing to media buyers.

Addressing the digital signage industry’s challenge of verifying placement and providing proof of performance, Arbitron announced that it has launched a series of tests aimed at enabling third-party audits of BroadSign’s proof of play reports, using Arbitron’s PPM technology.

The goal of the first test, conducted in December 2007, was to verify whether the PPM devices could accurately detect Arbitron’s inaudible code embedded in the loop of media files played on screens in a real store environment. The test was carried out in two convenience stores in Vermont. “The place-based media space is a growing opportunity which needs trusted third-party measurement in order to maintain credibility with the advertising community,” said Pierre Bouvard, president of sales & marketing for Arbitron.

According to Arbitron, the PPMs accurately detected the embedded code and the PPM’s times of code detection precisely matched the media file play times as shown in the BroadSign proof of play reports. The success of the first test opens the way to a series of additional tests before Arbitron’s proof of play audits can become a commercialized service that can be used by any network run on BroadSign’s software.

The digital signage industry also took steps to make the management of in-store advertising inventory more accessible to media buyers as SeeSaw Networks revealed plans to integrate its online media planning services with BroadSign’s ad server platform. The joint development of technology services is expected to provide streamlined delivery of campaign metrics and reliable reporting for national advertisers while helping to drive measurement standards for the digital out-of-home advertising marketplace.

Together SeeSaw and BroadSign will create a new open application program interface (API) to enable accurate, real-time reporting by automating inventory updates, proof-of-play reporting, and insertion order delivery. Media planners and buyers will be able to view available advertising inventory, purchase inventory, execute ad campaigns, and view proof-of-play reports, all from SeeSaw’s online media planning service.

EXPANDED REACH

Another alliance announced at the show is expected expand the availability of digital signage solutions to small to midsized retailers, as technology distributor Ingram Micro announced it will make available BroadSign’s hosted SaaS solution available to its more than 35,000 value added reseller (VAR) partners throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The new alliance marks the first time BroadSign’s SaaS solution in collaboration with SeeSaw Networks online media planning services is being offered through two-tier distribution. It also positions Ingram Micro’s North America Digital Signage Division as the IT industry’s exclusive one-stop shop for VARs looking for a comprehensive, end-to-end hosted digital signage distribution and measurement solution.

To help partners successfully sell and deploy BroadSign’s SaaS solution, Ingram Micro and BroadSign have identified several proven digital signage experts within the Ingram Micro Services Network (IMSN) that are skilled and ready to assist other VARs who are eager to build their service revenues.

One of the retailers announcing an expanded roll out of a digital signage network around the event was Virgin Megastores. Using BroadSign’s solution, media network provider eVision will operate a network of 400 digital displays of different sizes in 10 Virgin Megastores across the US. Each location will have up to 40 screens geared to the 18-44 year old demographic creating an ‘experiential environment’ by entertaining shoppers and informing them of the latest movies, music releases, games, books, electronics, apparel and fashion accessories on a playlist-style programming loop. The displays will feature an 8-hour mix of high-definition content to be updated daily while allowing customer interaction via mobile phones and Internet.