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Digital Signage in Grocery Stores Has Room For Improvement, Says WPP Research Firm

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Did I mention that the UK is a veritable hotbed of activity for dynamic digital signage (which they call captive audience networks)?  Oh, I guess I did a few weeks ago (in "Digital Media Networks Catching on Fast, According to UK Researchers").  Well, it's true, especially with the announcement of a new market report by research powerhouse Mediaedge:cia, part of advertising conglomerate WPP, which, among other things, highlights the relatively uninteresting role that digital signage plays in store merchandising today.  Just about everybody is covering the report, but I like the summary from their own press release the best:
  • 51% of shoppers still move through all the aisles in the grocery store, making them a perfect target for exposure to in-store media. But most younger shoppers (aged 18-24) do not follow any specific patterns, making it a greater challenge to reach them.
  • 64% of 18-44 year-old grocery store shoppers claim their children influence their brand decision.
  • More than a third of grocery store shoppers say that in-store ads influence them to purchase a new product or to try a different brand than they usually use.
  • 44% of grocery store shoppers notice the average in-store ad. The most noticed are end-aisle displays and store leaflets/magazines; the least-noticed are shopping cart ads and in-store TV. Furthermore, more then 3/4 of those who notice the in-store ads are likely to purchase the advertised brand.
  • Different age groups respond to different types of in-store media:
    • Product demonstrations are more effective amongst older shoppers (55-64)
    • Store leaflets and magazines get best response from shoppers aged 45-54
    • Shelf signs are more effective amongst 25-44 year-olds
    • Product packaging, check-out counter ads, and ads around store entrances and parking lots get better results with 35-44 year-olds.
(Taken from Business Wire, "In-Store Supermarket Advertising Works, Finds Mediaedge:cia's Sensor(TM) Study").
So aside from a brief mention about how in-store TV is one of the least noticed components of grocery store marketing (which is news in and of itself), how does this relate to retail digital sign networks?

Well, let's start with one observation about the study: nothing that I've seen indicates that every person surveyed had been shopping in stores that used a narrowcast network.  Since it's still a fairly new idea, I'd be willing to bet that at least part of the reason for digital signage's poor performance was simply because many shoppers were unaware of it.  So resellers, integrators, competitors (yes, I know you read this blog): this is the one part of the solution that we can affect directly.  Go out and sell more stuff.

Now, putting that aside and assuming that captive audience networks aren't performing up-to-par in UK supermarkets, let's do a bit of analysis and speculation based on the press clipping above.  We'll start with the obvious: perhaps people just aren't looking at the digital signs.  In the UK's premiere in-store TV network (namely, JC Decaux's Tesco TV installation), the combination of floor-, wall-, end cap- and ceiling-mounted displays would appear to cover all of the major visual areas that a person could look at while navigating store aisles.  I'm willing to believe that some portion of the end cap- and floor-standing displays could also be overlooked, either because of competition from other static POP in the area, or because they were misconfigured, unplugged, or otherwise made hard to see due to store layout issues.  However, the whole point of digital signage is that it's supposed to be high-visibility.  Motion makes these screens stand out from the sea of static displays vying for customer eyeballs, and if customers can't see the screens, you have either a content or a placement problem.  Again, placement seems to be covered, so I would argue that the problem lies with the content.  Content creation professionals must remember that digital signs are not TV, and you can't always re-purpose your TV content for use on an in-store network.  Digital signage must be clear and easy to read, and there must be a call to action for your customers.

Something interesting that I noticed from the bullet points above is that "51% of shoppers still move through all the aisles in the grocery store."  Suddenly, I'm torn between understanding why a company would have a single channel of content running through different store departments (a'la WalMart TV), and still thinking it's a stupid idea, and that content should be department-specific.  On the one hand, running a single channel everywhere allows a shopper to continue watching the same content as they traverse the aisle.  If the content is entertaining and informative (and not just a repetitive loop of advertisements), I could maybe see this working.  On the other hand, going the single channel route forgoes one of narrowcasting's strongest benefits, namely being able to place dynamic content as close to the advertised products as possible.

Another thing to consider from the above quote is that "[s]helf signs are more effective amongst 25-44 year-olds," and, "[p]roduct packaging, check-out counter ads, and ads around store entrances and parking lots get better results with 35-44 year-olds."  These are the two visual areas where digital signs can dominate, and thus the two age groups that can best be targeted.  Perhaps a combination of shelf-level and end cap digital displays would work better to improve visibility for these groups.

Regardless of technique, in-store advertising is more important than ever, since "44% of grocery store shoppers notice the average in-store ad," and "more then 3/4 of those who notice the in-store ads are likely to purchase the advertised brand" (emphasis added).  The competition for customer attention in-store is more critical than ever.  We can make a strong showing with digital retailing tools as long as we take research like the above as constructive criticism, and play to the strengths of the system.


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