No other vertical market has seen a greater proliferation of technological innovations than the retail space. The race for novelty has seen solutions adopted in retail from across the technological landscape. What was hot last month is likely to be commonplace or even obsolete in a few weeks. Similarly, the trends that worked yesterday might prove ineffective today. Forecasting the future and the rate of change over the longer term is difficult, but we can be confident about some of the specifics in the near future.
One trend that shows no sign of diminishing is the need for integrating solutions developed in parallel industries. One such requirement is the advance of mobile applications in consumer behaviour. POS systems, for example, have evolved from cash registers that simply ring up sales to full-fledged retail management solutions that allow retailers to manage inventory, customer management and ecommerce from a single platform. Last year sales of mobile POS software increased by 41 percent.
With millions of shoppers using smartphones for product research, locating products, transactions and even sharing the buying experience the use of location-based technologies, such as Bluetooth-connected beacons, is another certain trend.
Retailers are looking for ways to provide more personalised, real-time messages, offers and promotions. Beacon based technologies expected to produce more than $4 billion in U.S. sales this year alone.
Integrated digital media feeds are driving the further adoption of flatscreen displays. Fundamental changes in the retail sector are seeing the mass adoption of in-store touchscreen for applications including interactive help desks and immersive POS displays. There is a natural convergence of content marketing and digital technology in crossover content strategies that allow them to repurpose content and reach an entirely new demographic.
Add to this integration of social media experiences which are beginning to merge with in-store shopping experiences, which will further blend the line between the real world and the internet. Guy Phelps, Head of Retail and DooH at NEC Display Solutions, finds that advances in display technology have been adopted quickly in retail:
“The price difference between standard HD and 4K displays is reducing all the time and we are receiving more and more requests for higher resolutions, so it is certainly heading that way. For larger screens it offers the perfect blend of eye-catching large imagery, plus the extra pixels offer a close up better customer experience.”
“The wider colour palette offers a more realistic colour match to products and larger screens offer more opportunity for life-size product promotion.
We are also seeing an increase in its use with touch applications where the touch may be linked to a product purchase, so the customer experience needs to be slick and offer the best virtual reproduction for a point of sale tool.”
Investment by the retail sector also extends to the fast-emerging technology of fine pitch direct LED. “There is still a large price differential between LED and standard display technologies but since we are seeing more interest in LED from premium brands and even in the high street, these retailers must be determining a benefit which offsets the outlay,” comments Phelps. “If, for instance, you are choosing LED for aesthetics, and to create the ultimate wow factor, then you will undoubtedly achieve your investment objective.”
With its relentless pursuit of novelty and impact, retail also among the first verticals to recognise the potential of laser projection. “Laser projection has brought about a significant change on the retail AV landscape, bringing enormous benefits including huge creative possibilities,” believes Phelps. “The ability to ceiling mount is beneficial for older or historic properties where there are limitations or restrictions to the structure and fabric of the building.”
“Additionally, projection achieves larger image areas without the restriction of a bezel and a wonky, curved or weak wall becomes a potential space for signage. Floor and table projection with the potential for interaction opens up exciting opportunities to surprise and engage with your audience. Laser projection also offers potential cost savings, not just on the hardware itself, but also by not having to provide the infrastructure needed to install a video wall.”
But the nature of front projection, still has some of the traditional limitations. “For instance, there must be a clear line of sight between the projector and the wall, although a new UST lens option on our 8,000 lumen laser projector has widened the application; but LCD large format and video walls remain the most popular choice. Overall, laser projection is now a genuine alternative and offers some compelling benefits.”
The content challenge
While new display technologies are emerging that offer really innovative means of delivering retail messages, new challenges are facing their marketing and communications specialists. It’s something truism that ‘original content drives customer engagement’. A golden rule of customer engagement: is to interact through genuine, helpful and relevant content, delivered with quality and impact. This seems to work particularly well for lifestyle brands, where the application of new and emerging technology adds weight to the brand message.
These new delivery techniques include streaming media, but it’s still early days. Phelps comments: “We haven’t seen a lot of this in retail, only within the loss prevention department for CCTV feeds to the control room. There is interest in presenting content from live twitter feeds in certain applications. We have also heard of fashion brands using it during various fashion weeks, and flagship sites transmitting catwalk shows to other branches, but this is relatively rare.”
Likewise, a great deal is written about Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) and while there have been some well-publicised pilot projects, most experts agree that the market is still not ready for total adoption of the technologies. For the present, it’s probably a case of big brands with deep pockets.
Tech’s big ideas
For the larger retailers, technology is often seen as an enabler for their omnichannel strategies. While the demise of bricks and mortar is far from imminent, it’s generally accepted that the only physical retailers to survive the transition to ecommerce are those who invest in omnichannel strategies. While early adopters were the larger chains, independent retailers now see the value of committing to e-commerce. Brick and mortar stores will still place their primary focus on physical sales, but the capacity to generate online revenues and visibility will be necessary to compete with these larger concerns.
For the mainstream, centralised control of messaging and more creative opportunities for messaging, retailers are following the tried and tested digitisation of signage where ROI has been proven. Anything more adventurous on a widespread basis is limited at present. But with multiple technology options and the ability to mix and match, it’s not simply ‘anything is possible’, it’s ‘anything is probable’!
With this in mind, Tryzens argues that retailers must adapt and connect their channels to thrive. “Retailers must develop a coherent omnichannel experience that bridges that gap between online and in-store in order to boost brand loyalty and secure revenue. The days of the traditional pure-play retailers are coming to an end. Retailers must do more to survive the difficult consumer market in order to stay current and appeal to a wide range of consumer patterns and behaviours.”
With eight in ten consumers globally using smartphones, laptops and tablets while shopping suggesting that ecommerce is on the rise, research also shows that 53% of consumers still prefer traditional ‘bricks-and-mortar’ shops when making final purchases. Retailers must be doing more to develop a seamless omnichannel experience, where the lines between online and in-store are seamless in order to maximise returns and consumer satisfaction.
“It is natural for retailers to move towards capitalising on technology to help boost their customers experience and provide an additional revenue stream, but it must not be at the expense of their traditional retailing methods,” says Andy Burton, CEO of Tryzens.“Physical stores can be very expensive, getting the right location with the right reach and experience, but research suggests the over half of all final purchases are made in-store, where the option exists. By showcasing products in department stores, some retailers can get around the costly rental prices associated with running their own store whilst also appealing to customer desire for in-store final purchase. For those with their own store footprint in place, the opportunity to leverage sales through click and collect/reserve and collect capabilities from the website are well known, as is the ‘halo’ effect that web traffic often grows for ecommerce sites in areas where a physical store is present.”
“It’s hardly news to say that consumers are increasingly choosing to shop online. There has been a steady growth in the number of online shoppers for the last 15 years as access to the internet has become progressively ubiquitous. This trend has been reinforced by the rise of mobile devices in the market, such as tablets and smartphones, which allow people to shop online from wherever they are and at any given point in time. But there is a bigger trend at work here and retailers need to address this head on and now,”“Consumers are increasingly made up of digital natives, those who have no experience of doing anything without a form of a digital element (whether that’s shopping, consuming content like music, films and TV, connecting with friends, or studying), and this trend will not only continue but will accelerate. We call them Generation Consumer – the Millennials have come of age!”
Ecommerce has come a long way in developing retailers’ online capabilities. By allowing users to browse selected products anywhere at any time, and with multiple delivery options and simple returns, the accessibility for consumers has never been greater.But the stores in our high streets, malls and retail parks should be a part of the ongoing digital imperative. With a seamless omnichannel experience, where the consumer can move from online stores to in-store without difficulty, retailers are enhancing the consumer experience, helping to boost brand loyalty and security.“With a coherent omnichannel solution, retailers can enhance their attraction on the high street. By utilising technology such as social media, loyalty schemes, click/reserve and collect, retailers can engage with their consumers on a more personal level like never before. By tracking cached items, favourite products, push notifications, consistent page views and more, retailers can make a concerted effort to enhance the overall shopping experience for their consumers,” concluded Burton.
Guy Phelps, Head of Retail and DooH at NEC Display Solutions: ““There is still a large price differential between LED and standard display technologies but since we are seeing more interest in LED from premium brands and even in the high street, these retailers must be determining a benefit which offsets the outlay.”
Bubbleroom – from click to brick
Bubbleroom is one of Sweden’s leading fashion enterprises with more than 400,000 registered customers. In 2013, the company took its successful e-commerce concept into physical stores – to get closer to customers and broaden its reach via new channels. The first store opened in Skärholmen in Stockholm. Today, Bubbleroom operates six stores in Sweden and plans to open an additional 14. Transitioning from e-commerce to physical stores – without losing the overall experience – creates many challenges. Naturally, one of the most obvious challenges is to display broad product ranges. While Bubbleroom’s web store offers more than 4,500 items, i.e., clothes, shoes, and accessories, the physical stores cannot accommodate more than a few hundred well-chosen products.
In the web shop, consumers happily purchase many small items, while the opposite occurs in physical stores. So collection and product-range planning varies substantially within Bubbleroom’s two sales channels.Compared to web stores, physical stores are much more dependent on weather and seasons. For example, Bubbleroom can launch web sales of graduation dresses in early January; this wouldn’t work in a physical store.Despite these differences, Bubbleroom’s holistic approach in physical stores must mirror its web store, namely: exclusive and special, which puts rigorous demands on interior design and technology.
Customers must experience the brand the same way – regardless of the sales channel. As Bubbleroom is a digital forerunner, all its partners must be at the cutting edge; they must be able to identify opportunities and think creatively. A digital signage solution enabled a natural transition from e-commerce to physical Bubbleroom stores.
In partnership with NEC, Bubbleroom installed carefully selected monitors that naturally blend into its modern stores. The monitors are equipped with digital signage players that facilitate seamless installations without cables visible to shoppers.The monitors display wider product ranges – thus eliminating the physical store’s limited ability to stock many items and large volumes. They also display special deals, promotional films that reveal the latest collections,and moving images that show garments on fashion models.
Bubbleroom’s marketing team plans and produces all content.A digital signage media player facilitates content changes and controls that are done directly by store managers or centrally by Bubbleroom’s marketing department. So content can be adapted quickly as needed, e.g., to display promotions that are currently relevant or to quickly exhibit jackets when temperatures drop.Monitor models were specifically selected to add value to customers’ experiences in the stores. The monitors became a key element for emphasizing the brand’s connection to innovation and its online presence.
Bubbleroom’s digital signage investment contributed to a more interactive, modern environment in the physical stores. Changing content with campaigns enable the stores to be perceived as more vibrant and innovative.Showing garments on the monitors complements the clothes on the hangers and gives visitors a better overview of Bubbleroom’s products.Customers get an instant idea of how garments move and look. So the solution functions as a modern, digital mannequin. Digital signage makes it possible to display more items and broader product ranges, which meets the challenge of storing many product rangesin large volumes.
Digital signage enables enhanced customer experiences by clearly linking Bubbleroom’s digital and analogue environments. In turn, this encourages customer loyalty. To support physical store expansions, Bubbleroom will continue to invest in digital signage with proactively designed content.