Signing on

Grocers are capturing consumers’ attention and saving time and labor
with digital signage and other in-store media.

Hand-written paper signs touting prices or promotions can be quaint, but they are also labor-intensive and fairly inefficient. By the time the staff is done scrawling new prices or promotions and putting up the signs—hopefully with the right information and in the right places—they are likely to be outdated.

While industry observers say grocers have been a bit slower than other retailers to adopt digital signage and other in-store media, they are making the move to digital options to save resources—human as well as natural.

Other benefits include the ability to quickly adjust pricing and promotions based on the time of day, shopper demographic or even inventory.

“Retailers are relying more and more on digital signage and in-store media to communicate and connect with customers in the store,” says Seth Robinson, director, technology analysis for CompTIA, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based trade association for technology professionals. “Things start out pretty simple with using the technology to replace paper signs. But it then quickly moves into a desire to use this in-store equipment to reach customers more closely and improve their marketing. They’re definitely moving up the curve very quickly.”

As an example, he cited the dispensers that sit on the shelves and distribute coupons. “Those have been a great source of marketing for the CPG companies, but they really know nothing about the customers who are taking those coupons and the smaller group who is actually using those coupons. Thanks to mobile technology and more advanced in-store systems, grocers and CPG companies can become a lot smarter about this process. They can know more about the customers as they enter the store and even the aisle and the in-store media can be tailored to their shopping habits.”

Robinson says that some grocers are beginning to consider their in-store network of digital signage, screens and kiosks in similar fashion to their websites. “They realize that they need content and they need expertise that they might not have in-house.”

Connecting to the small screen
Observers say improvements have made in-store media a more cost-effective way to connect with consumers. In particular, it has become easier for in-store technologies to interact with smartphones.

“With advances in NFC [near-field communication], in-store media can be extended to the cell phone,” says Sunit Saxena, chairman and CEO of San Jose, Calif.-based Altierre Corp. The company recently introduced NFC-enabled price tags and digital signs, augmenting the company’s wireless solutions for retailers. NFC is a standards-based connectivity technology that enables interactivity with smart phones, facilitating communication between in-store devices and customers’ smartphones and facilitating mobile payments.

Saxena says Altierre’s NFC-embedded technology makes it possible for retailers to provide in-store personalized offers and product details such as nutritional and allergy information. “Instead of fighting the battle of price, retailers can differentiate themselves and improve the shopping experience,” he says. “This also opens up the opportunity for short-duration sales and dynamic pricing.”

In addition, Saxena says the NFC-enabled equipment allows retailers to cross-sell or upsell associated items, while also enabling checkout from shoppers’ smartphones using applications such as Google Wallet.

Digital signage and other in-store media can provide retailers with flexibility when it comes to pricing and promotions, observers say.

“There is a movement toward format agility,” says Richard Arnold, director of retail solutions marketing for Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard Co. “There is a trend toward more urbanized, focused stores and there is a greater emphasis on localized marketing messages. This is where interactive digital touch points can play a key role.”

Grocers can use in-store media—including kiosks and dual displays at the checkout—to make their mark in a crowded retail landscape, say observers. “We’ve definitely seen some retailers moving away from EDLP and appreciating the value of promotions and this strategy can be more easily executed and enabled by technology,” Arnold says. “It can also help with customer retention and loyalty. It is very dangerous for grocers to be in the murky middle ground, especially as every format tries to get into their pockets and grab food sales. They have to find an area to differentiate themselves and stand for something.”

Arnold says shoppers are becoming more comfortable with revealing personal information if there is a benefit. “I think self-identifying—where a customer walks into a store and swipes their loyalty card—is something we’ll see more of going forward,” Arnold says. “If the grocer knows that Dick Arnold is in the store they can use these interactive digital touch points to personalize the experience.”

One of the potential roadblocks for a successful digital signage program is a lack of compelling content, say observers.

“Some retailers and brands put up a screen with static content and that’s it,” says Richard Ventura, director of sales for vertical solutions at Itasca, Ill.-based NEC Display Solutions of Americas. “It has to be relevant, impactful content that drive sales or a specific message.”

The content has to enhance the shopping experience, he says. “It has to be memorable and the shopper needs to get something out of it.”

Observers say retailers and brands need to do more analysis to ensure that the messages on the digital signage are on target for the store’s demographic and increased sales.
“Customer loyalty program information, coupon dispensing, nutritional information, recipes with related item lists, prepared foods items, specials and brand advertising are just some of the potential areas for in-store media content,” says Steve Acquista, senior director of digital signage for DT Research, a San Jose, Calif.-based provider of in-store digital media.

He also says there is increased interest among grocers to use kiosks for coupon dispensing, item location, recipes, customer price checking and nutritional information.

Acquista says that grocers are looking to add complementary screens in conjunction to primary interactive kiosks to serve a dual role of broadcasting targeted interactive messaging to individuals as well as sending more generic messages to all shoppers. QR codes are another way to extend the reach of digital signage, he says.

When looking at in-store media, grocers could benefit by putting smaller screens at the shelf, some observers say. “There are a lot of opportunities to reach customers at the shelf with a small 7-inch screen,” says Neeraj Pendse, interactive digital signage product line manager for Elo Touch Solutions, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based provider of interactive touch screen monitors.

He uses an example in the baking aisle. “If you have an interactive display in the baking section with information about baking cakes or pies, a customer will get intrigued. Then, if you offer them a percentage off if they purchase all of the ingredients for the cake, suddenly you’ve got a sale you might not have had before. For grocers, where it is all about basket size, finding ways to get a customer who might have spent $50 to spend $60 can make a significant difference.”

On-shelf displays also open up potential to promote items not even on the shelves, he says, including high-theft items such as baby formula and razors, or items such as liquor that require identification. “While the physical item may be locked away, an on-shelf kiosk could be used to provide details about the product, pricing and availability,” he says.

Digital becomes affordable
Digital signage doesn’t have to be large or fancy to get attention, observers say. BrightSign, based in Los Gatos, Calif., recently announced a line of solid-state digital signage media players—the XD230, XD1030 and XD1230—that will sell for $450, $600 and $700, respectively. “Our solution offers the robust functionality that PC-based solutions are known for, but with the dramatic cost advantages and unparalleled reliability of a purpose-built signage solution,” says CEO Jeff Hastings.

He says a recent test at Walmart, where the digital media players were used at the endcap to promote breath strips, resulted in a 100% sales lift on a particular product.

Customers were attracted to the interactive nature of the display used in the Walmart test, he says. “During a four-week campaign, Walmart reported that three times as many shoppers signed up for daily offers and discounts when texting was employed on in-store digital signage,” he says.

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