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.
I’m convinced you’re the only “Goldberg” in this biz that knows what hes talking about! 😉
I have more thoughts about the whole evolution of digital in retail infrastructure vs. digital in vendor provided displays vs. mobile discussion, I just need to find time to write.
I can confirm that the displays you saw at Walgreens are inexpensive motion sensor based displays. There are 2-4 deployed in every one of the 7,400 Walgreen stores. It’s an inexpensive player w/ LCD manufactured in China that probably costs about $75/display. That kind of stuff is becoming more and more common. Target now has at least 6 video based vendor provided displays in each of it’s 1,700 stores. Best Buy now averages over 50 in each of it’s 1,200 stores. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 90,000 video based displays alone.
The problem is that the overwhelming majority of them are not designed for retail stores (what I like to call not “RetailReady”), and as a result less than 50% of them are properly deployed and functioning at any given time, which creates a HUGE problem for the brand and the retailer. The challenge to vendors that want to play in that space is going to be to provide brands a solution in the same order of magnitude price that is RetailReady. I expect the retailers to do something a bit different for their own infrastructure, but I’ll write more about that when I have time. Cheers,
Jason aka retailgeek aka “the other Goldberg”
Thanks for the comment and great info! The issues of reliability, managability and compliance will be tough for cheap, non-networked devices. But there is obviously a place for them in the mix. We’ll all look forward to hearing your thoughts when you have time to write. We need fresh, expert voices in this space!
A fascinating discussion, especially when you consider the parallels from the days before digital displays in retail. For large retail chains, compliance for placement of static POP displays has always been problematic. Even if the retailer pays a third party to install the displays, there is no guarantee that the store employees won’t move a floor display or take down a poster as soon as the installer walks out the door.
Many in our business hold up the Walmart network as the epitome of how digital signage is done right. I agree that Walmart TV 2.0 is well done. But they are not immune to compliance issues. Envision a well-conceived small screen on an endcap with a motion sensor. That’s smart merchandising/marketing — IF the advertised product is stocked on the shelves surrounding the screen. But if the content is promoting sunscreen and the shelves hold antacid tablets, how can consumers be anything but confused?
I hope you are correct that retailers “will eventually set standards for size, quality and volume of screens” and follow smart merchandising practices, whether with digital or static displays or a combination of the two. It’s critical that digital signage be considered part of an integrated marketing mix with a view to supporting and maintaining brand values. Adding multiple vendor-supplied video messages to a cluttered retail environment doesn’t contribute to the customer experience and whether they will contribute to the retailer’s or the brand’s bottom line remains to be seen.
Margot “Not a Goldberg” Myers