The Digital Signage Insider

Arbitron study finds shoppers receptive to retail media networks

Published on: 0000-00-00

Since 2001, media research firm Arbitron has made a point of looking in on the retail digital media industry to study its impact on consumers, measure the performance of this kind of media, and in general, follow the growth of an emerging market. 2005 brought us the first study that specifically focused on digital signage applications, and a recently-released '06 study builds on those initial findings with some really interesting statistics.

Their key findings include the following:

Based on telephone interviews with 1,002 US consumers (all over the age of 18), Arbitron suggests that a full 33% of Americans have watched retail video programming. This, to me, was the least surprising statistic of the group, since you can hardly walk into a mall or large department store nowadays without seeing some sort of content playing (whether it's any good is another matter entirely).

Somewhat more surprising was their claim that about 1 in 10 shoppers make a habit of stopping to watch retail video -- about 2% said they "always" stopped to watch, while about 8% said they did so "frequently." If that's true, this behavior is quite interesting, especially considering that another 32% of respondents said that they "sometimes" stopped as well. This makes me wonder... who are the best targets for the ads and content playing on these screens: the ten percent who are actively (and frequently) consuming the media, the next thirty-odd percent who still make a point of watching, but do so less often, or the remainder of consumers, who may not watch the retail screens out of habit (or don't know they're watching), but are equally exposed to the messaging? While common sense would point to the group that takes the most interest in the content being shown, we also need to consider subconscious implications of content being displayed to passers-by -- who might be only a few feet away from products that are being advertised.

Equally if not more impressive (if it's true) is the finding that nearly a third of shoppers reported making an unplanned purchase after seeing a product advertised on a retail digital signage network. Considering that major research efforts by the likes of P&G have shown that you only have a few seconds to capture a shopper's imagination (at what they call the First Moment of Truth), the notion that digital signs could impact consumer behavior to the point where they make unplanned purchases suggests that these devices are an effective way for a product manufacturer to get additional exposure in that critical three-to-seven second decision window. In fact, I have to wonder whether the use of in-store digital media might actually extend that window a bit, since the moment of truth is no longer limited to the fixed area where the product is being showcased. With a store-wide plasma TV network, for example, a product vendor might advertise on several screens (e.g. entrance, store aisle, and checkout) to improve its chances of getting through to a consumer during their decision making process. Thus, a consumer who is exposed to a three second ad for Tide as he enters a supermarket might already be primed to make a decision as he approaches the laundry detergent aisle. The moment of truth may not have happened yet - he hasn't actually seen the product on the shelf or added it to his cart, but by the time he does encounter the physical product, a part of his decision has already been made.

Not surprisingly, Arbitron also found that younger shoppers appreciate retail video the most. About 84% of 18-34 year olds claimed to find networks that carried ads or product information helpful. About 72% of the same age group also said they were interested in watching music videos or other entertainment content in store while shopping. Does that mean that a network that carried half entertainment content and half product info/ad content would be more or less successful in boosting sales than an entirely product-focused network? Without additional research it's hard to say, but stores with a young customer base might find it worthwhile to experiment with content loops that bring some attention-getting entertainment content to their digital signs. Likewise, Arbitron says that about 46% of male shoppers are interested in news and sports scores shown on retail digital networks, so the same type experiment would apply to networks in stores that cater mostly to men. If removing 10 or 15% of your ads in favor of non revenue-generating content will bring more viewers (and likely more attentive ones), that might be a worthwhile trade off.

Arbitron makes a couple of conclusions at the end of the report, stating that "retail video stems the tide of commercial avoidance" by using displays that "cannot be circumvented". I know they're talking about things like TiVo or video iPods that make traditional broadcasters (and media buyers) shudder with the knowledge that more consumers are working to actively avoid advertising, but I'm still a believer in the well-integrated, unobtrusive digital sign network. Do the screens need to be eye-catching, attention-getting and highly visible? Yes, of course they do. Do they need to be in your customers' faces every second they shop? No, and if that's your game plan, your signage network will irritate your customer base, who will simply adopt a new method of commercial avoidance - namely, avoiding your stores altogether.

To download a full copy of the Arbitron report, click here for the PDF version.

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