These days, digital displays are dynamic and flexible, handling a multitude of functions for every aspect of a business, be that entertaining customers with interactive music and video, way-finding, product information and promotion, employee training and brand reinforcement.

From a retailer’s point of view, time and money can also be saved when compared to using traditional printing and shipping and by handling digital files internally; there is no need for retailers to rely on outside vendors. Not to mention the ways in which digital displays can be customised and used for interactive purposes.

CIE speaks to Guy Phelps, head of retail and DooH display solutions division, NEC, who reveals his thoughts on the future of retail display technology.

“These days, everybody has the ability to buy anything from a laptop, so what value can a retail environment actually add to get you in store?” he asks.

“If you’re a virtual shopper and you like the convenience of online and you’re shopping on your lunch hour, how can the brand you are looking at give you the best experience?

“The thing that technology is bringing is to blend that message,” he says. “These days you can pick up a shoe in store and technology will tell you about the shoe. The retailer is taking the high tech approach; we’ve all been stood in shops waiting for an assistant, so there’s an element of self-service which the online-type people are used to, as well as cutting edge tech from the shopping experience.”

For instance if a shoe brand is displaying its shoes digitally in-store, the displays are used to provide an accurate representation of what any shoes hidden in warehouses or stock rooms look like.

“The quality of NEC screens allows retailers to shop with confidence, as the blue that you see on screen is the blue you’re actually going to get,” says Guy. “You can examine it as if you were holding it, just virtually.”

One change for retail going forward is how the online kiosk experience will change, offering the retailer a much bigger portfolio in a smaller space.

“Look at Marks & Spencer, one of the most conservative, traditional brands on the high street,” he says. “If you go into most of their women’s departments you’ll see 70-in screens everywhere – why? – because they want to reduce the age of their shoppers. They want to go from a pants and socks brand to a fashion brand. Their challenge is using technology to attract a different audience, but they also have a situation where this is tricky because of the sheer stock size of it all, with M&S food and mini M&S.

“In theory, you should be able to go into a petrol station and buy a sofa! That’s the next level of things. It’s no less convenient than looking at a sofa on your laptop screen – you may as well do it under their brand and in their shop where there might be spin-off sales around you as well.

“There is more and more of that going on, you’re seeing kiosks being used at supermarkets – Tesco express for example. Touchscreens are also becoming more prevalent.”

The other thing that is linked into this is the fact that we all carry bigger and better technology and a lot of us either are, or consider ourselves to be more informed than the shop assistants before we walk through the door.

“I’ve got a high definition touchscreen in my pocket 24/7,” he says, pulling out his smartphone. “It’s the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I look at. I’ll do my research online and I use it as a final double check towards the experience of handing over hard earned money, rather than waiting three days for it to arrive by post.

“The shops have now recognised that the people are often more informed about products than the shop assistants. So it’s beneficial to allow that and to not fight that by allowing the technology that’s in-store to enhance and embrace that.

The potential of AV

“From an AV perspective, there is masses of potential out there,” he confirms. “You’ve still got high street brands that haven’t embraced it; companies deciding to roll tech out to their tier-2 shops rather than just their main high street ones. M&S has probably about about 3,000 or 4,000 screens from us now. But if I’m honest you could still look around a store and have a job finding these screens because the sites are so huge!

“The potential is massive for us as manufacturers and for the ecosystem around the AV industry. At the same time what’s exciting is that we’ve got things that make dumb screens come to life. For instance one of the things that we can also see being embraced more now is more targeting – you are talking and communicating to an individual person and their needs.”

Here Guy admits to problems with this kind of targeted advertising, wondering what happens if the person is looking for a gift and not for something for themselves.

“Here the message has got the person completely wrong, so are you in fact alienating them? There’s this whole journey in digital signage that retailers are playing with and where NEC supports that is by bringing in partners to bring in all of that stuff they want to roll out, and the manufacturer will allow them to develop what is right for their own retail strategy.”

“The potential is massive for us as manufacturers and for the ecosystem around the AV industry. At the same time what’s exciting is that we’ve got things that make dumb screens come to life”

So what’s being fully embraced at the moment? “Basically what everyone is doing now is screens in windows,” he answers. “But screens and heat don’t mix so one of the emerging technologies at the moment is keeping the screens cool to allow them to be in windows running 24/7 to get ‘out of hours eyeballs’.

“What’s also popular are high end touchscreens and pop-up store type technologies, or ones where we’re using projection behind it to allow the retailer to not be dictated to with regards to how big their touchscreen is but how big they want it to be – projection is allowing that,” he enthuses.

“Another big thing is things behind windows; if you were an estate agent closed on a Sunday but you’re in the area and want to look in the window, you can see what’s available and be able to gesture at it and flick through pages to see other things on offer. Maybe you could even point your phone at it, download the spec, then find the road to drive by the house.

“Then you’ve got digital customer service desks which M&S are also getting involved with where they’re upgrading screens so they don’t have to do loads of printing all of the time. There are also big video walls for a big impact, some even embracing gesture technology. For instance I saw a customer recently looking to do something for a big window in Oxford Street. They are looking at ways to get people waving at it and looking at it, using it as a commercial opportunity to advertise the brands they carry in their store.”

“Let’s not forget the virtual selling angle,” he adds. “You can have virtual sales people telling you about the products: if you pick up a product, it will tell you all about it, how to use it and what’s there.

“I’ve seen that myself in a Belgium supermarket that’s doing that with wine; it tells you why it’s good, why it’s the wine of the week, what food goes with it, plus they can do cross selling – so you’re educating as well as selling.

“The interesting thing for me is, having done this for a few years, if we had this last year it would have been seen very much as ‘the future,’ but it’s already here now. What’s unique for me about this year is yes there are new concepts, but actually they are all available to buy and use right now.”

So what’s changing in retail? “I think we are seeing a big change in projection – they used to be rejected by retail because they have more washed out colours with lamps that need maintencence, but in 2015 everyone is launching laser projectors and laser doesn’t have any of these problems,” he explains.

‘I think we’ll see much more laser projection now. 4K resolution will be a lot more ubiquitous, giving better colour reproduction and better detail – think about brands like Burberry or Hermes, they spend a lot of money on getting that unique texture and quality as well as print, and to do that virtually you really need that quality and detail, so I predict that they’ll be buying into that type of technology.

“We just sold loads of 98in, 4k resolution screens to a jewellery chain, so that’s high tech items that need that detail close up – all those things that we stare at through magnifying glasses – why?

“Make it big, make it beautiful, make it detailed and offer bespoke services by having a jeweller opposite you saying ‘I want my ring to look like this!’

“So I think we will be seeing much more touch, more definition, bigger and more ubiquitous,” he summarises. “And I think we’ll see a lot more intelligent digital signage where people will be targeted more, whether that be though cameras or sensors, facial recognition – I think there will be a lot more targeting full stop. And I think there will be a lot more clicking and deliver.”

More on digital retail

What Will Retail Stores Look Like In The Future?

7 Signs the Future of Digital Retail is Here


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