The Digital Signage Insider

Analyzing Digital Signage Pilots - The Grocery Store

Published on: 0000-00-00

Towards the end of 2005, we were lucky enough to get word of several noteworthy digital signage pilots popping up in Europe. I've highlighted a number of European deployments here in the past, including our last article about the Tesco TV digital sign deployment. However, the sheer quality and quantity of leads, trials and deployments in the fourth quarter (and so far, this year) leads me to believe that the European digital signage market is finally starting to mature. I was so impressed by some of these trials that I flew out there last week to see what was going on first-hand. Having now been back in Florida long enough to thaw out, I thought I'd share some of what I learned. Of the dozen or so trials that I had the opportunity to examine, three really caught my attention -- both for what they did right and what they did wrong. Thus, over the next few articles I'm going to try to get some thoughts down on each of these. To protect the confidentiality of the retailers, I'm not going to mention any city, country or company names. But a few small (and mostly irrelevant) cultural differences aside, these things don't matter too much within the scope of this analysis. The first of the three trials that I'll tell you about is a chain of 70 supermarkets that has partnered with a third-party digital signage firm to deploy an ad-supported digital advertising network. Next is a soft goods chain piloting a digital signage network as a merchandising tool to supplement their static POP displays. Finally, the last trial utilizes a half-and-half approach, combining internal merchandising messages with advertisements for private label and name brand products alike.

Let's start with the supermarket trial. I only had the opportunity to visit one of the aforementioned supermarkets, though I was told that all of the stores followed roughly the same layout, and each of those trialing the digital signage network had approximately the same number of screens, placements, content channels, etc. To give you a rough idea, I'd say that the store was about 30,000-40,000 sq. ft., and had a partially finished warehouse look to it that was not dissimilar to a Sam's Club or Costco (aside from being smaller, of course).

I think that the first words out of my mouth when noticing this digital signage deployment were "Wow, this layout looks just like Tesco's," which is somewhat ironic since in last week's article we hypothesized that Tesco's in-store advertising network might not be doing so well. This store had the same "power aisle" layout, featuring seven or eight floor-standing product displays, and about as many 42" plasma screens suspended from the ceiling about 10' off of the ground (that's a bit more than 3m for you metric folk). All of the screens in the aisle were showing the same content, providing the entering shopper with a tunnel view of repeating, moving images. It was an impressive sight, albeit a little dizzying. There were at least four other channels of content in the store (produce, bakery, etc.), each of which was playing on between 4-8 plasma monitors. No matter where I stood in the store, I could always see at least two channels of content playing (and in some places, I could actually hear two or more channels at once). Considering the visual and auditory clutter (and the aforementioned similarity to the Tesco layout), I wasn't surprised when I later found out that this network was also having trouble selling its ad space. Though the supermarket chain had opted to try and sell their space themselves instead of using a media buying organization (a'la Tesco using JC Decaux to sell their ad space), they were running into many of the same problems, with advertisers unsure of the profitability of the screens, and customers complaining about their obtrusiveness.

On the other hand, the store appeared to be doing a number of things right in this trial (at least in my opinion). To begin with, somebody clearly made a large capital expenditure to install this network the correct way, right from the beginning. The store utilized high-brightness displays, the mounting work was clean, and some of the screens that were integrated directly into the floor-standing displays were extremely well done. Likewise, much of the store's custom content was eye catching and informative, featuring bold, bright colors, big text, and friendly-looking people "talking" directly to passing customers. Unfortunately these custom content segments were too few and far between, and overall the content loops were too short, never spanning more than five or six minutes on any given channel. Considering that these stores are fairly large, I'd be willing to bet that the average customer might see the same content several times during the course of their visit, which contributes to increasing indifference towards the message. I also noticed that most of the ads were simply re-purposed TV commercials lacking any kind of locale-specific information, such as pricing or availability. Even more notably, though, none of the ads featured a call-to-action. I'm still amazed at how often this critical step is missed. All it takes is a simple "Buy me now in aisle 4!" or "Try our product today!" to turn otherwise marginal pieces of content into sales-boosting spots.

Getting back to my first observation about the sheer quantity of screens in the store, I'm starting to wonder if we'll ever be able to come up with some kind of generalized observation about when there are too many, too few or "just enough" screens in a retail venue. Considering how many different merchandising strategies, store layouts and corporate cultures there are, I think it's going to be hard to come up with a standard definition of what to use. In this particular case, there were perhaps fifty 42" plasma screens in the store, which was simply too many. Some of them were extremely well placed, merged into the store's existing fixtures in such a way that the screens were unobtrusive, but still extremely eye-catching. Others, though, were either placed in less-visible areas or were located too close to the customers. It's almost as if the installers had an exact plan for the first 30 screens, and then were told to do whatever they liked with the last 20 (apart from selling them to the general public out of the back of their truck, of course).

From a practical/implementation standpoint, I think we can learn a few things from this trial deployment. First off, unless you have a really, really big store, 50 big-screen displays is probably going to be too much. An endless plain of ceiling-mounted digital signs might sound like a surefire idea, but it may be more likely to irritate customers than using a more reasonable number of screens placed at more strategic locations, or varying the screen sizes to compensate for predicted viewing distance, etc. Next, if you're working with a fixed content budget, or you're running a limited number of spots, make sure that the content you have running on each channel is about as long as the average customer visit or dwell time for that area of the store. If your entire store-wide channel only has four minutes of content and a shopper's average visit duration is 20 minutes, those shoppers will probably see the same content four or five times each visit. Combine this with the current trend of many shoppers to make several short trips to the grocery store in a given week, and you could be flooding your prospective customers with repetitive content and training them to tune out the messaging before long. Finally, even if you're going to simply reuse TV content and commercials on your digital signs, take a moment to add call-to-action text or audio (or both) for a quick and easy way to boost your network's performance.

In next week's episode, we'll look at a digital advertising trial at a soft goods retailer, where they use plasma and LCD screens to augment (and in some cases, replace) traditional POP displays. I'm quite excited to start reviewing my notes and report the most interesting finds to our readers, since these stores have arguably elevated digital merchandising concepts to a whole new level.

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