Many of today's most prominent retail digital signage installations focus on advertising specific brands or products that are available for purchase in the store, with the hope of boosting the sales of said brands or products. For example, Wal-Mart TV shows ads for Tide, Colgate and Hanes products, and hopes to sell more detergent, toothpaste, and underwear, respectively. But what happens when your store is your brand, and vice-versa? Companies like Gap, Brooks Brothers, and Victoria's Secret have thousands of stores that primarily sell company-branded goods, so the traditional model of selling ad space to store vendors doesn't work. Instead, private-brand chains have begun to experiment with digital signs and interactive kiosks as a pure merchandising play, augmenting their traditional in-store POP with light, sound and motion in an effort to reach customers with new messages and targeted promotions.
I recently had the opportunity to visit just such an establishment as part of a European retail tour (see my related article on a digital signage pilot in a grocery store chain). The company in question is a soft-goods maker with stores all across Europe, and caters primarily to the female teens through thirty-something demographic. They already have a strong and sophisticated in-store marketing team in place, and opted to test digital signage at several locations as a way to either augment or replace their static signage and displays. The first store I visited had a combination of static and digital displays, including several displays placed either at or near the entrances and facing outward to draw the attention of passers-by. My own informal observation suggests that these screens did their job very well. I watched numerous people moving at a fast-paced "city walk" (if you've ever lived in New York City you know exactly what I mean), only to be slowed down by the bright lights and moving images of the digital signs (the outward-facing ones were 40" and 50" high-brightness LCD screens). A good number of them actually went inside. Since I have no idea how many of them would have gone in otherwise, I can't really say whether the screens boosted traffic, but I'd be surprised if they didn't have some positive impact.
Inside, there were perhaps 10-12 screens located throughout the approximately 15,000 square foot space. About half were wall mounted in the different "departments," four were behind the cashiers' areas (there were four of these, one screen apiece), and the others were mounted in movable fixtures that could hold racks of clothing or adjustable shelves for accessories. All in all, the work was extremely well done, and I was particularly impressed with the integration of the digital screens into the fixtures. I was later told that the store uses Ethernet-over-powerline technology to feed these devices, so they can actually be wheeled about the store and simply plugged into any electrical outlet to get both power and network connectivity, thus freeing the merchandising folk from having to worry about running extra Ethernet wires or testing wireless signal strength. Along with the dozen screens were perhaps 15-20 static signs of varying sizes and shapes. Most of the time, the static signs and the digital signage content complemented each other quite nicely. Somebody clearly put a lot of time into thinking about the different messages, images, color schemes, etc. for both types of display media.
Another store was configured similarly, except the designers had installed a few additional digital signs (of the wall-mounted or fixture-mounted variety) and removed all of the static signage. These stores had a more contemporary "clean" look and feel about them, but my own impression was that the digital signs didn't quite have the same impact and visibility as the combination of digital and static signs from the first store. I wish I had the chance to visit a location that used only static signage as a control case, but unfortunately I ran out of time.
In both cases, the content on the signs focused mostly on current loss-leader offers, other promotional sales prices and seasonal item availability. There were occasional branding messages, but since every label, receipt, price tag, employee name tag etc. featured a brand logo, I don't think this provided much extra value. Both stores used a combination of portrait and landscape displays, and a number of different simple (i.e. full-screen) and complex (i.e. multi-frame) screen layouts, depending on the particular screen and location. All of the content was professionally done, and it was all either adapted from other in-store merchandising material or created specifically for the digital screens.
As far as message reach within the stores, I think it simply came down to a matter of size: in the all-digital store, there were about 15 or 16 screens. To make the math easy, let's assume they were all 40" screens in a 16x9 format. This gives us about 700 sq. in. of signage per screen, for a total of around 11,000 total sq. in. of signage in the entire store. On the other hand, the store that utilized a combination of static and digital signs probably had more than twice the display area, at an equal or lower cost. While the digital signs certainly provide additional impact, novelty, and the power to control, measure and change messages remotely (and a certain je ne sais quoi that appeals to the customer base), I think that we'll need to wait until screen prices come down another 50-60% before this type of retailer goes all-digital with their premise signage. (Perhaps this will happen in the next few years, especially with new technologies like OLED and E-Ink coming to the forefront.) In the meantime, it will probably serve the retailer best to pair the digital displays with their analog (static) counterparts for the maximum visual impact and ROI, locating the digital signs in the areas where they can generate the most sales lift.
This is not to say that the success of a signage project (digital or static) can simply be reduced to the number of square inches or feet or meters that it occupies. Like many other things, it's not the size that matters, but how you use it. Placement, orientation, and most importantly, content are also critical to the success of any signage initiative. In this particular case, because the content was the same in both stores (and quite excellent to boot), and the screens were placed in approximately the same locations, the store with both types of signage had the edge because it was able to display additional marketing messages, without making the store feel cramped or cluttered. It's quite likely that adding just a few more signs would have made the store feel overloaded, and I would have preferred the digital-only store. In this case, the retailer demonstrated their merchandising expertise by maximizing the visual impact of their signs without making the stores look cluttered.
In the end, of course, the success or failure of the experiment will come down to sales. Since this store chain has access to both the signage playback data and their own POS sales data, it will be a fairly straightforward matter to calculate the overall performance of the network, and determine whether it provides any benefit over a traditional static layout. While I can't say for certain how it will turn out (until the retailer decides to provide me with sales metrics, which will hopefully happen soon :), I would be very surprised if their combined static + dynamic signage store layout didn't provide increased sales of the advertised items, and an overall net positive ROI for the digital signage network. It's also worth noting that the selective combination of digital and static displays has been used very effectively in quick-serve restaurant menu boards, movie theater displays, and other digital signage deployments.
Next week, I'll conclude this series by looking at a pilot deployment that contains elements of both the grocery store pilot mentioned last week and the merchandising pilot discussed above. What do you do when you offer a store brand that competes directly with a well-known, name brand product? Who should get the ad space on the digital signs? These are some of the interesting questions that we'll ponder then. Stay tuned!