Digital signage looks vastly different today from my early days working for a niche hardware manufacturer developing simplistic solutions for groceries and customer-facing retail applications. Digital signage then was quite simplistic. These solutions didn’t incorporate interactive touch — because most solutions ran solely on a USB stick with a media or DVD player.
However, those solutions provided the kindling for the digital signage firestorm we are witnessing now that greatly enables businesses to craft immersive, profitable and innovative retail experiences.
What do Immersive Retail Experiences Look Like in Practice?
When discussing “immersive experience,” you may immediately imagine virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) transporting people into 3D digital environments. However, immersive retail experiences that captivate customers’ attention and ultimately lead to greater profitability are a fusion of the physical and digital worlds.
For example, an apparel store specializing in athletic shoes may use RFID/NFC sensors to engage with a customer interacting with the product. The sensor activation triggers specific messaging, advertisements or offers on an interactive touchscreen display nearby. The retailer can use this data to generate a coupon code that the shopper can scan for a discount or order online to better accommodate gifts or convenience, resulting in a bigger sale.
Actionable data can also help retailers with inventory management across all locations. If the customer needs more information or help, these systems are particularly good at alerting retail managers to know quickly that a customer service action is needed.
Let’s look at how a couple of other applications use similar digital signage applications for different goals. A chocolatier in a mall may use digital signage solutions to show their sophisticated and legendary chocolate-making process in the mountains of Switzerland. This entertains the customers and establishes a brand connection during the checkout downtime or while the product is being gift-wrapped. This type of setup may prevent customers from going to a brick-and-mortar store in the future due to time constraints.
Another prevalent example is interactive digital signage at many professional sports arenas that allows fans to browse products and customize gear (that can be delivered to their seats during the game), learn about the team’s history, inquire about season tickets or learn about upcoming events.
The Benefits of Automating Customer Engagement
Customer engagement is vital to retail competitiveness. Research from customer engagement platform Braze found that retailers that excel in this area increase conversions and purchases per user by nearly a factor of nine and increase repeat buyer conversion by 38%.
However, customer engagement has typically involved employees well-trained in people skills. Unfortunately, in an era of widespread labor shortages, skilled workers may be hard to find and harder to retain. Technology can help fill the gap that vacant sales associate positions create — and do so cost-effectively. Augmenting staff with technology reduces labor costs, allows employees to focus on revenue-generating activities and results in great customer experiences, with access to information at the point of decision and the human-to-human personal touch when customers request it.
An immersive retail experience can also include raising brand or product awareness. Out-of-home (OOH) advertising has evolved into digital-out-of-home (DOOH), allowing retailers to use digital signage in-store or in other locations to draw attention to their content. DOOH solutions don’t require much space in a store or restaurant, but they can make a big impact.
Furthermore, content and advertising can be adapted to the location of the digital touchscreen, i.e. shoe brands in the shoe department, sports equipment in sporting goods, etc., and content can scroll through several ads, messages and videos.
What to Consider When Crafting Immersive Retail Experiences
To date, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all digital customer engagement solution that will work in every retail setting. Creating immersive experiences takes the expertise of IT solution providers specializing in interactive digital signage. Retailers also need to collaborate with software developers on intelligent solutions that can interpret consumer input and respond with information and offers that pique interest — and possibly contribute to a bump in conversions.
Keep in mind, however, that it may be difficult to see a direct ROI from interactive digital signage in a retail environment. Immersive retail experiences are just one facet of a customer journey and may not directly result in sales. It’s better to think of these solutions as marketing tools and measure “return on objective” (ROO) rather than ROI. When the purpose of the solution is to educate consumers, raise awareness, help shoppers find their way around a retail environment or collect customer feedback, the KPIs you measure will be different than when you’re measuring dollars and cents.
The immediate return may be increased engagement, return shopping trips, positive reviews and recommendations and greater brand awareness. But it may be exactly what the consumer wants, and what the retailer needs to compete.
Tyler Wells is the North American Sales Manager for MicroTouch. Since joining the company in July 2021, his focus has been on developing sales and implementing the U.S. distribution strategy. He brings over 14 years of experience in the built-for-purpose computer hardware and sports entertainment industry. Prior to joining MicroTouch, Wells served as the Global Distribution Sales Manager and Manager of Business Development at Mimo Monitors, Marketing and Business consultant for DYT Solutions and Inside Ticket Sales for Red Bull. Wells has a degree in Marketing Management from the University of Wyoming.