All signs point to digital

Most Canadians have probably been exposed to digital signage by now – either grabbing a bite at the mall food court or standing in line at Tim Horton’s, but more retailers could be taking advantage of these screens, according to industry insiders.

Digital signage simply refers to large, flat screen television displays placed in a retail or restaurant environment. The screens are different from home TV screens because they are brighter and more durable. They are used to deliver content and advertising to consumers, usually within the context of the surrounding environment.

Advertising on these screens can be more effective than advertising on TV, says Cathy Stauffer, executive vice president of market development at Premier Retail Networks Corp. (PRN), a digital signage content provider based in San Francisco.

“Instead of spending on TV where people may or may not be paying attention, hit them when they’re in the store and engaged with shopping, ready to reach for the wallet,” she says.

PRN advocates retailers using digital signage have a “hybrid model” approach to the screens that mixes paid-for advertising with other content helpful to customers, or just entertaining. It may seem tempting to just treat the screens as a pure revenue channel, but retailers can use their screens as a way to educate their in-store customers and cue certain behaviours.

“Just putting ads up is not a good consumer experience,” Stauffer says. “It’s going to have a more limited life than if both the retailer and the network are equally invested.”

Larger chains of retail stores are the biggest customers of digital signage products right now. But that could change soon as more products and services come to market looking at mid-sized businesses, says Bruno Pupo, national sales manager of digital signage at LG Electronics Canada Inc. Case in point is LG’s own SuperSign.

The display comes with licences to some content, including a CNN News Feed. It also includes software that makes it easier to piece together content on the screen, emulating slideshow creation software.

“Typically digital signage is used in an enterprise environment where they might have thousands of pieces of content to catalogue and deliver,” Pupo says. “That’s too complicated for a smaller business to manage.”

One of Pupo’s customers is a Toronto-based convenience store owner with 10 locations. He’s able to use SuperSign to centrally manage the content displayed on each of them. He could also opt to use a network like PRN.

“He is not allowed to show the cigarette labels behind the counter anymore, but he wants customers to know he sells cigarettes,” Pupo says.

Understand the consumer

Like all business, the digital signage channel comes down to money coming in and money going out. While revenue can be collected directly from selling advertising, that shouldn’t be the only source of incoming money considered, Stauffer says. There’s also the fringe benefits gained from consumer awareness and increased product sales.

“We expect this to increase the customer relationship,” she says. “It could get them to the store more quickly or more easily, there’s so many ways to get that return on investment.”

Where the display is located and what the customer is doing when they look at it are important factors to consider, she adds. PRN identifies four different types of interaction: pause, walk, dwell and wait.

“Waiting I think is really a good audience because they’re captive,” Stauffer says. “They’re waiting and they’re thankful for the screen and they’re going to watch.”

With pausing, you might have just a second to catch the consumer’s attention. Walking can be even less time to nab a distracted glance.

PRN’s network includes TV walls (like those used to sell TVs), checkout displays at grocery stores, and dining displays.

Brian Jackson is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.

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