Visual merchandising is a time-tested marketing tool to attract customers and hold their attention in physical retail. The retail practice involves strategically displaying the existing stock in such a way that customers are compelled to walk through the store. From window displays to the new-age, technology-aided digital in-store displays, visual merchandising is a means to create a brand identity and help create a seamless and satisfactory shopping experience for customers.
People have started to shop from the comfort of their homes, a situation that was further accelerated due to the pandemic. Therefore, brick-and-mortar stores must come up with ingenious visual merchandising ideas to provide an enriching experience, one that cannot be achieved from shopping online. This trend is already picking up and as we have seen in NRF’s Retail Big Show. Several retailers are incorporating interactive technology in their premises to provide a blended experience to customers. For instance, we have smart mirrors in dressing rooms that can help customers gauge how items would look when paired with other accessories to promote cross-selling. There is also the innovative concept of endless aisles which are in-store kiosks that help customers browse and order products that are not yet available in the store.
Any kind of graphic display that is used as a medium to convey information to an audience is known as signage. We have come across signage many times in our daily lives. Road signs that talk about speed limits or directions to the nearest towns, health safety signs found in the workplace, or colorful signboards found in retail outlets detailing the working hours, information on discounts or deals are a few examples of signage.
In retail especially, signage tends to serve a few common purposes i.e. promotional campaigns or advertisement, establish brand identity, visually appealing to attract customers, provide wayfinding & directional signs or raising health safety awareness.
The predecessor to digital signage was electronic paper, a display format that could hold static text and images indefinitely without electricity. Devices with electronic paper required manual intervention to update them with the latest information. Therefore, owing to the limited reach of information transmission, this format of digital signage was soon replaced by the Dot Matrix display which heralded the first generation of digital signage.
Commonly found in areas like train stations, airports where mass communication is necessary, the Dot matrix display could relay information stored within a database on display devices such as LED board, projection screens, OLED screens, etc. The downside of this type of digital signage is that it could not play multimedia content which led to the second generation of digital signage that was called Multimedia Player digital signage.
As per its name, the second-generation digital signage can play multimedia content by a centrally managed system. Digital content is displayed on TVs and monitor displays of a digital sign network. The display content can also be controlled via the Digital Advertising Network players which connect with the monitor and the internet allowing the end user to dynamically change the content from a central location. Even more advanced digital signage software allows automatic content creation on a real-time basis by combining the most recent data obtained from news, weather reports, etc. with the audio-visual content to produce the most up-to-date content.
However, interactivity was missing in the second-generation digital signage and that led to the third generation of digital signage also known as interactive digital signage where the users can interact with the content management system. Interactive digital signage enables greater interaction and thus offers a more personalized experience to the end-users.
Retail was one of the first industries that started using signage and subsequently digital signage. In the early 1970’s it harnessed the idea of “produce and play information repeatedly”. And in the 1990s when the internet exploded, retailers combined with advertisers and technology companies to broadcast information on a larger scale outside the stores. In fact, history has it that the term digital signage was coined in the early ’90s by a security guard of a retail outlet in the UK. He was ignorant of what the network of video walls in the store was called and hence referred to them as digital signage.
Almost every retail outlet, irrespective of its size, uses digital signage nowadays. The mass usage of this technology is further facilitated by the reduction in the prices of hardware & software supporting digital signage. Whether it is used in the bright signage that helps in back-office employee management or the digital billboards otherwise known as outdoor signage that are becoming bigger than ever with the option for large screens, digital signage is quite ubiquitous now. Not to forget QSRs have now resorted to digital menu boards that make ordering easier and help upsell products. There are also small businesses that use digital signage to share promotions and sales as well as a larger chain of stores that can centrally manage the display content in real-time for their chain of stores
Once a customer enters a store, digital signage can be an apt substitute for marketing. Here are some of the ideas to show how digital signage can improve in-store marketing and be a value add to the overall marketing plan.
All the above benefits point to the fact that digital displays will play an important role in not just in-store marketing but also in the overall marketing strategy of retailers. Retailers can make use of digital signage to bridge the divide between online and offline store presence as it will help them focus more on customer experience.