Expectations are never-ending in the retail industry. They’re also ever-changing — even more so in light of recent events. People have different mindsets when entering a brick-and-mortar store. Some people are certainly cautious about in-person interactions, so they’re often in the store for a specific reason. Others might have just stopped in out of happenstance, doing a little window shopping for the day. Regardless of the reason, it’s no secret that it’s up to retailers to compel consumers to stay, and many have taken up the call.
According to a Retail TouchPoints survey, the industry has been exploring ways to reconfigure the physical retail space and implement digital elements into the overall shopping experience. Online sales accounted for 14.5% of total retail sales in the second quarter of 2022 — a 7.4% increase from the same period a year earlier. So retailers must contend with a digital-first world.
No longer can there be separate strategies for offline and online experiences. The two must now meet in the physical realm, where the stores themselves have digital layers for experiential purposes to drive people through the doors. The best way to do this is with digital signage.
Why Digital Signage is the Wave of the Future in Retail
When digital signage is referenced, especially in retail, it’s often associated with digital screens flipping through deals, specials or other offers near the point of sale. Although those are important elements, digital signage can go well beyond that kind of limited use case. The creative treatment of the medium allows brands to change their overall aesthetics seasonally, monthly or weekly. It’s also possible to trigger on-demand changes through in-store interactions.
By leveraging the concept of digital signage and applying it to physical environments, retailers can keep stores feeling fresh and interesting and create the kind of experience many customers expect.
For example, our company was brought in to create a store within a store for Skechers. Our team used traditional digital signage, with single screens displaying content to draw consumers in. But more layers were necessary to truly establish the space, so we built a video wall in the center of the experience where other content could be played.
We also used frosted acrylic gondola toppers with LED lighting to define the area more clearly. Depending on the selection of shoes displayed or the time of year, Skechers could choose different color palettes to update the look and feel of its store within a store (e.g., red, white and blue for the Fourth of July, orange and purple for Halloween, and so on).
With the technology used for the experience, the corporate office could change the display at a moment’s notice. The flexibility was tremendous. And rather than having to print materials or build new pieces, changing the display became as simple as pushing a button. There were some upfront costs, naturally, but the long-term savings were beneficial for Skechers. Besides, such displays offer one additional point on the customer journey that’s not conventional or static. Signage, lighting, wall projections, interactives and motion visuals grab a consumer’s attention and can change each time they come into the store.
How to Make the Retail Experience Interactive with Digital Signage
Shopping is already interactive to a certain point, so it only stands to reason that the physical environment should be the same. Digital signage makes this possible. At its heart, the medium is centralized control and content deployment. And rather than simply using it for advertisements, brands and retailers can get more creative with the technology. Here are a handful of ideas to get you started:
1. Stop viewing digital signage solely as an advertising platform.
Signage, since its inception, has been predominantly used as a form of advertising. You can thank billboards for perpetuating this concept. With advancements in technology, however, it can be used for so much more. Digital signage should be seen as a tool for design — a platform for enabling your brand to reach audiences in much bigger, bolder and more innovative ways.
Walls, ceilings and floors are all places within brick-and-mortar spaces ready for digital signage. Use the technology to evoke an emotion representative of your brand. It can play into the identity of the brand and the consumer alike. And with the cost of LED so low and pixel pitch so high, it’s really up to the imagination of what your brand or store can do with technology to enhance the customer experience.
2. Bring designers into the mix.
The inclination for most brands is to leave digital signage in the hand of the marketing team. Not that marketing professionals can’t utilize digital signage in creative ways, but designers should be part of the process too. The potential to use a larger canvas, such as an entire wall or floor, could stump a marketing team.
Bring designers into the fold to help guide content and aesthetics, as well as the interactive elements available with digital signage. Better yet, build a team with a mix of marketers, designers, merchandising folks and other retail specialists who understand environments and fixtures, to brainstorm ideas of how to best use the technology and drive value for customers.
3. Work with architects.
This mostly applies to new stores, but it’s still something to keep in mind. If you want to move digital signage beyond an advertising medium, work with architects and design teams during the planning phase of construction. What can technology do to enhance lighting, tie into audio and so on? You’ll get a lot more usage out of the system if you’re able to think outside the 16-by-9 screen.
Though there might be a greater upfront expense, these features are all long-lasting. They also give you the ability to swap things out easily, change the aesthetics of a space and deploy a variety of content. Digital signage gives you more control and flexibility with the physical space. And when done right — with architects and designers involved — it should be a cost-saving measure in the long run.
Deploying new creative treatments is reason enough to venture into digital signage territory. On a whim, brands and retailers can test and treat consumers to new experiences. Of course, digital signage is still there to help push messaging. But with such a canvas, why not leverage the technology to its fullest potential?
Scott Schoeneberger is the managing partner at Bluewater, a design-forward technology company that helps support sensory storytelling across digital and physical canvases. Specializing in integration and event tech services, Bluewater creates experiential moments for brands, their projects, and events. Schoeneberger has been published in Eventbrite, Entrepreneur, and Forbes Communication Council.