To hear some people talk, you’d think bricks and mortar stores would have gone the way of the steam engine by now. There is plenty of evidence to support this, as in the UK alone high profile high street brands like House of Fraser, BHS, Debenhams, Homebase, and Toys ‘R’ Us have experienced well-publicised difficulties. In 2017 – again in the UK – almost 6,000 stores closed their doors for the last time.

Despite this, what does the one of the World’s largest online retailers, Amazon, know that no-one else knows? Knowledge it has and is using in opening physical shops for consumers in America, as well as buying the grocery retailer Whole Foods.

The clear majority of retail purchases are still being made instore, away from the online world. Physical stores provide instant gratification for consumers; the look and feel of products can be assessed first hand, shop assistants can answer questions and it’s even more immediate than next-day delivery. And while some traditional retailers have struggled to move with the times, other, previously online-only etailers have opened unique flagship stores, like fashion brand Missguided.

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A recent report into AV opportunities in Retail by the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association (AVIXA) suggests that navigating stores, finding products, and getting the required information was key to the consumer experience instore; all of which can be streamlined, improved and made more experiential by utilising the latest technology. 

Smart retailers are increasingly leveraging technology to enhance the real-life experience of a physical, bricks and mortar store. And with a plethora of intuitive, engaging and efficient technology available, it’s easy to see why.

Investment activity
“Despite the widely reported demise of the high street, we’re seeing a lot of investment activity in retail globally,” comments Jason Cremins, CEO of digital media platform company Signagelive. “In terms of the types of solutions being delivered, it ranges from data-driven in store digital signage that reacts and responds to stock availability, pricing, audience and analytics, through to spectacular retail theatres combining LED displays, light, sound and live video streaming.”

Most commentators attribute the success of the likes of Amazon to its ability to gather huge quantities of data, analyse it – increasingly, using artificial intelligence – and personalise what it offers. One of the advantages of digital signage is that it can do this in the physical store environment; more than just a pretty face – it can gather data and modify that pretty face according to the data.

Building on this, the rise of millennials as the dominant consuming generation has increased the experience economy. Millennials are known to value experiences at least as much as possessions. Retailers who can offer an instore experience, rather than a simple shopping trip, are proven to be more successful. Again, digital signage has a key role to play.

“It’s exciting to see how retailers are innovating to capture the benefits of instore and online shopping and effectively unite them in a single experience,” says Ian Crosby, Sales and Marketing Director at touch technology company Zytronic. “With tools like interactive video walls, endless aisles, assisted sales, touch tables – all relying on contact via a screen.”

Dynamic digital media
Cremins shares his enthusiasm.
“I’m excited by the move from passive scheduled content to truly dynamic digital media where content is targeted to individual shoppers at the point of delivery, adapting and responding to the needs of the retailer, brands and the customer,” he smiles. “The power of cloud computing, robust media playback technology, OLED displays and fine-pitch LED videowalls all enable retailers to deliver immersive experiences that were never previously possible or affordable.”

“Retailers are heavily investing in the creation of an experience that draws the customer into their physical stores and away from online,” comments Jeff Hastings, CEO of BrightSign, who manufacture digital signage media players.

“Central to recovering footfall in retail is the experience the retailer provides,” he continues. “Beacon technology is increasing audience engagement and creating a highly targeted, personal experience. Using Bluetooth Low Energy [BLE] beacon technologies, 2-way communication between digital signage and mobile devices is achieved, and allows for the delivery of highly targeted promotions based on location as well as the ability to control digital signage playback from a mobile device.”

It’s not just beacon technology that can deliver these personalised experiences. Digital signage with inbuilt cameras, supported by artificial intelligence software, is now capable of detecting the sex, age and even mood of those viewing it – and changing its messaging in accordance.

The world of digital signage is moving quickly, and to ensure you stay ahead of the latest technologies available, a visit to Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) – the world’s largest audiovisual technology, products and solutions trade show – is a must. Taking place at the RAI exhibition centre Amsterdam 5 – 8 February 2019, the show features 15 halls of the latest solutions from across the integrated systems industry.

ISE 2018 saw no fewer than 80,000 visitors descend on Amsterdam. Of the 1,300 exhibitors, almost 400 – more than many dedicated digital signage shows – have dedicated offerings for retailers. 

ISE 2019 will once again welcome a half-day Digital Signage Summit focusing on exploring smart retail environments. Taking place on 6 February at the Hotel Okura, the 2019 Digital Signage Summit Europe will explore how digital signage and retail technologies can enable retailers, brands and corporate customers to offer engaging digital experiences. The summit will also provide insights into sensor technologies, IoT and digital storytelling highlighting through analysis, strategies and best practice. Florian Rotberg, Managing Director, invidis consulting, will chair the conference. 

More than just signage
Although a key element, retailers are more than just deployers of digital signage. They have meeting rooms, host live events and utilise PA/VA systems. Retailers are looking for ways to make their buildings ‘smarter’ by controlling energy costs and have an interest in security and access control. As technology becomes more commonplace and its advantages accepted, many solutions can form part of a larger technology system. ISE hosts solutions, technologies, conferences and education to cater for the needs of a variety of audiovisual requirements.    

“ISE is a great opportunity to see all of the possible audiovisual technologies from multiple vendors in one place,” says Cremins. “It’s unique in offering retailers the opportunity to experience the now and the future of AV technology, whilst suggesting how they might wish to incorporate those solutions within their premises.”

Jeff Hastings, CEO of BrightSign: “ISE brings together all the latest developments in the AV industry, so end users can see and interact with demonstrations and get a feel for what technologies can be used to enhance their retail outlets.”

“Screen-based technology is central to retail today,” believes Zytronic’s Crosby, who will be showcasing new touch controllers for the first time in Amsterdam in February. “Retailers shouldn’t only rely on a systems integrator or technology reseller to understand the benefits. They need to experience at first-hand what can be achieved today, and the best place to do that is at ISE – the biggest single collection of AV technologies that will be assembled in the world in 2019.”

For those retailers who ‘get it’ – who understand how state of the art audiovisual technology can help them create loyalty and engagement and enhance the customer journey; how it can create a new kind of experiential shopping way beyond what can be found online; how it can gather and analyse data in real time to create customised offers; how it can increase footfall and, even better, increase sales; and who can harness those capabilities to the undoubted attractions of a real world store – ISE promises to be unmissable.

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