Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Consistency is the key!

I read a good article this morning on about showrooming.  The article references a white paper published by Wireless Ronin Technologies that talks about "omnichannel retailing".  The article goes on to describe how brick and mortar retailers are increasingly relying on a mix of technologies to better service their customers.

Retailers who are good at connecting with their customers rely on many technologies like social media, email marketing, mobile applications and digital signage. Unfortunately, each of these tools operates independently so keeping your message synchronized and unified is a difficult task.

For example, promotions must be coordinated across every channel otherwise you can end up with conflicting information.  You can't have digital signage screens displaying an expired promotion in your stores while your web site is showing entirely different ads.  Same goes with coupons that are published via the web or on mobile applications.

If you're not coordinating the message across every channel, you run the risk of alienating your customers and that's when showrooming comes into play...

It's important to publish your content across every channel using a unified look and feel.  It ties all of your communications together and reinforces your brand.

Retailers are putting a lot of effort to make this happen using the tools they have available but at some point we need all of these platforms to converge.  We're already seeing a few digital signage applications that can communicate with PCs, Linux and Android devices.  These applications let you publish content in a format that can be displayed on flat panel screens, tablets and digital frames.

When you're dealing with a single platform, it becomes much easier to deploy content across multiple channels in a coordinated manner. Until then, we need more checks and balances because consistency is the key!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Exterior Digital Signage Blues

I spotted this 4 screen digital signage tower in Kingston, Ontario last week...
The execution is quite professional and it must have cost a pretty penny....  There are 4 screens mounted in weatherproof (and vandal proof) enclosures.  The enclosures are ventilated (you can hear the fans as you get closer to the structure).  The entire unit looks really sturdy.

The location is perfect. It's in a high traffic area, right next to a busy waterfront park and marina.

So what's wrong?

Well as you can probably tell from this picture, you can't see anything.  This was taken during an overcast day and the content on each screen was practically unreadable.  There is a lot of reflection coming off the enclosure's surface and I noticed a dark film which seemed to be applied to each screen's surface.  Not sure the purpose of this film but as a result you can't see the content during the day.  Even from up close.

I haven't visited the area at night so I can only assume it's a lot more readable but this is practically useless during the day. You would think having the screens mounted behind a protective glass in a thick enclosure would help with contrast but it doesn't work here.

There are really bright LCD and LED screens that are visible in full sunlight. I can only guess as to why they weren't used in this application (probably a cost issue).

This installation could have been designed and executed so it would work all day but someone decided to cut corners and this is the result.  Why would anyone go through all this expense and not use the right display  technology?

If you don't have the budget that can support 4 daytime readable screens, install 3.  Better to scale back and spend the money where it's needed.  Otherwise you end up with something that does half a job.

It's still possible to go in and retrofit better displays but you would think this could have been done right the first time.  Time will tell if this eventually works out.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why retailers should warm up to "showrooming"

I discussed the practice of showrooming in a previous post and since then I've read more articles on the subject (like this one).  I was surprised to learn that Deloite predicts smartphone's impact on in-store sales in the U.S. will represent 5% of total sales in 2012 and eventually grow to 19% by 2016.

If you are a retailer or a marketer, you can't ignore these figures. Chances are smartphone use is already impacting your sales and will continue to do so for years to come. In order to be ready for these changes you must act now and consider every tool at your disposal.

Take digital signage for example.

When properly implemented, digital signage can engage smartphone users and turn them into paying customers.

Here's how:

  • Incite smartphone users to interact with your digital signage by adding QR Codes to your programmed content.  This way smartphone users will be able to obtain additional information on your products or download valuable coupons redeemable at the store's check-out.
  • There is nothing more frustrating for customers to drive up to a store and discover an advertised item is out of stock.  Instead of losing a sale to Amazon or eBay, display stock levels in real-time on your digital signage screens.  If you run out of stock, publish directions to the closest store that still has the item in stock.
  • Invite customers to shop online and then match your competitor's prices whenever they are lower.  You may lose a few points on one or two items but you will make it up in overall sales.  Many retailers are already doing this for their "bricks and mortar" competitors so this is just an extension of the same program.
  • Highlight your online competitor's shipping charges and point out all the disadvantages of shopping online (waiting for delivery, receiving the wrong item, product returns, etc...).
  • If you really feel daring, install an internet kiosk in your stores and let customers check out prices online.  Since you control the environment, you can always add some elements to the screen for in-store promotions.  You should also promote a shortcut to your own e-commerce store's web site.  Here again, digital signage technologies can provide added value by delivering ads while the kiosk in unattended.
  • Provide free in-store WiFi and be sure to publish a splash screen when customers log in so you can display links to your own e-commerce site or QR codes.

Smartphones will continue to add new features so this technology is not going away anytime soon.  Better get used to it and take action now rather than face declining sales in the years ahead.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

If you can read this... you can rent an apartment!

Fellow consultant and blogger Dave Haynes published an article yesterday about a local (Toronto) digital signage company that is getting into the apartment rental market.

The idea may not be as strange as it sounds and I agree with David on these points:

  • The content needs to be big, bold and simple.  If the picture on his blog is reflective of the final product, I can see a lot of problems.  There is way too much text and it looks tiny. I guess we're not targeting most 50+ tenants with these signs because you probably need to walk right up to the screen to read what's being displayed.  There is no way someone driving by be able to read this screen.
  • The application may be better served with a large format LED or other type of high impact outdoor screen.  I would also be really concerned about issues with the sun washing out the image or with  reflections making the thing unreadable from some angles.  There are many outdoor applications that use smaller size screens (I am thinking here of the Tim Hortons drive-throughs for example) but you're inches away from these things, the content is high impact and the screens are BRIGHT.
  • There is a definite risk of vandalism.  The screens look encased in some type of weatherproof case which is good but I shudder at the thought of some hooligan taking a baseball bat to this thing. Never mind the graffiti and assorted other indignities this will certainly face.  Better hope they have a webcam pointed at the screen.  They may need it as a deterrent (or for evidence gathering).
I looked at the company's other products and they seem to have a good business based on restaurant menu boards.  Their installations look very well executed and quite professional.  I suspect they come at this from a  web site design background and found a way to re-purpose their material for digital signage use.  It also makes lots of sense sense to leverage their content management system to support their digital signage installations.  It's a nice extension of the business.

I am more concerned with seeing what is better suited as a wall mounted digital concierge board used as a digital sign to increase the drive-by (or in this case, probably walk-by) rental business. Seems to me this application would be better served by using more visually effective content with a tie-in to MMS or Bluetooth to push out info about the rental units available.

It's certainly interesting and it gets me thinking about other untapped opportunities like adding cross-property promotions...  Perhaps integrate local business advertising to help promote the area or even partner with the city and push useful information as part of the loop.  Lots of opportunities there when you think about it.

Criticism aside, I wish these folks well and hope this works out for them.  It's always good to see people take digital signage into new directions and test new opportunities.