Practically every retail-focused article that I come across tries to paint consumers -- and Americans in particular -- as either time-starved multitaskers eager to shave precious seconds off of every non-essential activity, or stuff-obsessed shopaholics that liken a day at the mall to a round of golf or an evening at the Met. While I certainly know a few people who meet one or even both of these stereotypes, the majority of consumers probably fall somewhere in between: sometimes shopping for enjoyment, and other times, out of necessity. One recent phenomenon that seems to be bridging the gap is "pre-shopping," which basically amounts to researching a purchase decision online before visiting the physical store. In fact, according to a presentation by Deloitte & Touche at the NRF, nearly two-thirds of shoppers engage in pre-shopping, and given the increasing influence and purchasing power of the Millennial generation, that number is only set to rise. With this in mind, I've started thinking about ways that retailers can use in-store media to bring more of the buying decision back into the store.
Unlike static POP, in-store media networks have the enviable ability to change content on-the-fly according to a set of rules and circumstances. Because the content has to appeal to a wide variety of viewers and shoppers, network operators are often confronted with the challenge of making dynamic media that's not only appealing and compelling to a general shopping audience, but also effective for pre-shoppers who have sophisticated product knowledge and even specific brand and model preferences. As if this wasn't hard enough, retailers are also privy to a number of facts and statistics from some very reputable companies that further complicate the process of building content that can reach shoppers and pre-shoppers alike.
74% of brand decisions are made in-store
Perhaps the granddaddy of all retail media statistics, the notion that 74% of brand decisions are made in-store originates from POPAI, a well-respected industry group. What this number tells us is that a large number of people may enter a retail venue with a good idea of the problem that they have, but not necessarily the best solution for it. In this case, it's up to product marketers to convince these people that they have the cheapest/best/most valuable solution. This stat has always been good news for the digital signage crowd, as it places the point-of-decision on the sales floor, where the content on a screen could mean the difference between Colgate and Crest, or name brand instead of private label. Pre-shopping adds an extra layer of complexity, though, since the 74% number is rather old, and probably doesn't take into account the growing number of people who are using the web as a research tool. If a shopper comes into the store with a predisposition towards one brand because of research conducted on the web, the in-store marketer has a much tougher job. Though we haven't seen any solid data on how different kinds of content might influence pre-shoppers, the prevailing wisdom from our customers is that a more information-oriented approach may work best. Any research that a pre-shopper does will produce a mental checklist of pros and cons, which the shopper will then use -- consciously or not -- to make a final decision in store. Content that makes it easy for the shopper to compare a product's strengths to that mental checklist may be more likely to leave an impression. Also, it might be a good idea for in-store marketing to emphasize the dominant features and benefits touted on the product's website, since the information will be new to those who don't pre-shop, and will serve as a reinforcement to those who do.
The "First Moment of Truth" is less than 3 seconds long
This one always amazes people when they hear it for the first time. According to P&G, the First Moment of Truth -- the amount of time you get to make your first impression in-store -- is only a few seconds long. Does this mean that everybody needs to abandon their 15-second retail spots in favor of seizure-inducing 3-second ones? Thankfully no, and in fact many networks have found better success in longer-format infomercial style spots instead of traditional 15- and 30-second ads. The real problem here is that pre-shoppers may have had their First Moment of Truth with a competing brand online, in a different environment and with a different intent (research vs purchasing), so they aren't primed for that initial messaging in-store. I haven't really heard of any good solutions to this problem, though as pre-shopping becomes more common I expect that more research will be done in the area. Perhaps we'll be able to take a page from the multi-channel marketing playbook and start producing content to address specific concerns and even responding to competing product offers, rather than just focusing on the product. While it seems like a potentially risky proposition, it has worked for print, Internet, email and direct mail marketing, and could extend to in-store as well.
Shoppers should be able to identify a brand in 5 seconds from 5 feet away
The is one of Wal-Mart's own rules, and it applies to how products are merchandised on the sales floor. However, savvy content creators will probably want to take it into account when producing product-centric spots. After all, what's the good of a high-def, high-budget 30-second spot if nobody can tell what it's for? Unlike TV and even Internet advertising, in-store marketing has the opportunity to produce an immediate sales lift, and the average shopper won't pay attention to the majority of in-store content for more than a few seconds. Thus, it's a good medium for sales-oriented messages with a clear call-to-action, rather than the brand awareness content often shown on TV. One possible exception to this rule are strong brands that might rely on their logo, tagline or product imagery to do the selling for them. For these select brands, a widely-recognized label can be enough to catch viewer attention and make them more receptive to a marketing message, but only a small percentage of brands actually wield this kind of clout.
Another scenario where these rules might not apply is the experiential retailer: a store that puts brand building and customer experience above immediate product sales. Nike is probably one of the best examples here (since they operate their own private-label stores and use in-store media networks as a way of improving the retail experience without necessarily promoting individual products), but other retailers have been following suit lately. Apple does an amazing job of making their brand an object of desire in their retail stores, and Samsung recently started trying to improve their brand allure by building a giant experience-only concept store in New York City where you can try all their products. The idea of not being able to buy Samsung products in Samsung's own store may strike some as odd. But Samsung and others are betting that the ability to touch and feel a product in a controlled environment may sway consumers towards their brand down the road -- especially where pre-shoppers are concerned.
While the paragraphs above are liberally qualified with maybes and perhapses, content creators need to start thinking about the impact that pre-shopping will have on the effectiveness of their in-store media. As more studies are released and time goes on, we'll see if the approaches I've outlined here really do improve performance, but hopefully in the meantime they'll serve as a starting point for retail experiments by savvy content producers and network operators eager to get the most out of their in-store displays.