The headline of a recent posting on Sixteen:Nine caught my eye, as well it might: “Retail Geek” Goldberg Leaves MTI; Pondering Next Moves. You know how it goes, you tend to notice your own name in a crowd.  The article was about industry veteran Jason Goldberg (no relation) who speculated that while usage of video in retail venues is certainly going to explode, it may not be “the expensive hardware and software solutions we see much of the industry focusing on at the moment”.  Jason thinks we will see a lot more $50 and $100 frame-like devices.  He is also firmly in the camp that believes people will have their heads down looking at their smartphones anyway.  I made a mid-afternoon trip to the nearby Walgreens pharmacy late last week after reading the article.  I had a prescription to fill, so there was a bit of time to kill as well.  I wandered through the aisles, stopping to pick up some Advil and some dish soap for our office kitchen.  As I walked I found three instances of what some people might call digital signage.  Jason might call it video.  I am going to call it in-store media. Here was the first, an end cap display for Fast Flats from Dr. Scholl’s.

It looked to be a 7″ screen playing a 15 second loop off of flash memory.  The tinny sound seemed to be motion-activated (not confirmed), so that was a relief.

Sell-through on the display looked to be in the 30% range, which of course is meaningless unless you know when it was last stocked-up. Compelling use of digital media? Not so sure. Effective?  You’ll have to ask Dr. Scholl’s and Walgreens. But I do know who paid for it, and I bet you do, too.

Moving along, I saw that old favorite, the combination tube TV and DVD player.  What it was promoting was a big endcap of squirty all-purpose cleaning something or other.  As you can see, either they just restocked it, or the content was not what the experts call a “traffic stopper”. (Note: I returned 3 days later, it was still fully stocked.)  Both the product and the media looked retro to me.

Finally, strategically placed near the aisles that moms frequent, was the Paper Jamz display, with a tiny screen imploring Junior to beg mom for a stringless, electronic guitar ($24.99) to “jam” on.  I always favored air guitars myself.  Looked to me like a few kids were able to move mom to action.

I am not sure how to make sense of all of this.  It seems clear that Walgreens’ current strategy is to allow vendor-paid video of any type into a promotional display.  No beef there: if it sells more stuff and they don’t have to pay, why should they care?  There is a caveat though, because in the end, the customer assigns the quality, convenience and image conveyed by the digital media to the store, as well as to the brand.  I am not writing to imply that these displays should have been 32″ LCDs with state of the art, networked media players, because that is not the case.  But it would make sense for retailers who decide not to deploy and program their own digital signage network to be mindful of what is finding its way into their stores.  The Fast Flats display seemed appropriate, at reasonable volume.  The Paper Jamz get-up was pretty much low budget visual noise, buried in a large display that actually screamed visual noise. Given the price point, it may have warranted a bigger investment in video, if only to show how it works.  The DVD-TV thing was, well, degrading to the store.  A decent poster featuring price and benefits would have looked much nicer.

Jason Goldberg’s vision of many small, cheap video displays seemed to come to life while I waited for my prescription.  I think that what I saw, though, was a hint at the future of vendor-paid in-store promotions, and not the future of in-store media itself.  Retailers will eventually set standards for size, quality and volume of screens, and learn to match video presentations with the revenue potential of the promotion.  In some cases, it will look like the Fast Flats display.  In others, you may see larger screens and more highly produced media. The folks responsible for visual merchandising won’t let it get too far out of hand.  Even as video finds its way into promotional displays, you will likely see larger format displays in key traffic and dwell points around the store, selling the most important item of all: the store brand.  And while those displays may be vendor-sponsored, they won’t be vendor-generated.  Like the merchandise mix, you will see a marketing mix, and the retailers will manage it carefully.