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Leveraging Audiovisual Technology To Create Retail Destinations That Continuously Evolve

According to 2018 research into retail technology adoption by AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association, 47% of retailers surveyed said they planned to increase the amount of digital signage in their stores. When we asked shoppers what they thought of the many displays, videowalls and other digital experiences popping up in retail, more than half took a utilitarian view — it helped them find products and/or learn about them — but a whopping 41% said it added to their enjoyment of shopping in stores.

But with more retailers adopting digital signage and other audiovisual experiences to draw and engage shoppers, they face a digital-age conundrum: Who’s going to create all that engaging content? How? And how often? Because nothing undermines a well-considered retail digital signage strategy like content that plays over and over and over — without changing — for months. The solution is generative content.

Today, audiovisual technologies exist that can automatically produce new, customized content for videowalls and other digital signage. “We want to create a magic moment and disrupt the standard retail experience,” explained Antoine Saint Maur, Multimedia Director for Float4, which works with retailers and other companies on digital installations. “Generative content is a good example of that concept…a mechanism for ever-changing visuals.”

Content That Gives Life

Generative content takes many forms, but at its heart are software and computing devices that combine pre-designed content and data to create original visuals in real time. And when you add in modern sensor technology, generative content can change based on different factors within a space, such as foot traffic, environmental elements, time of day and more.

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“Content has to be generative for an installation to breathe, have a life by itself, and not just to do the same thing,” says Saint Maur “So, we look at what kind of parameters we want to play with.”

Float4 was behind the content at Bloomingdale’s Carousel pop-up store on the first floor of its New York City flagship. On opposite sides of Bloomingdale’s Carousel store are giant videowalls measuring 10 feet high and 35 feet wide. The content on the videowalls reflects the theme Bloomingdale’s plans for the space, and it combines pre-shot, live footage with graphics that move and change based on computer algorithms. The result is an immersive, dynamic experience the feels fresh each time a shopper enters.

To experience generative content at the 900 North Michigan Shops in Chicago, shoppers need only look up. Across a series of LED canvasses built into the mall’s ceiling, ESI Design created an ever-changing “sky” that generates ambience and allows the property’s operator, JMB Realty, to ensure the visuals automatically change and morph to promote retailers, products and the city outside.

“Even though it’s 190 feet long and 10 high-resolution screens, we treat it as one cohesive canvas all the way across,” said Andrew Lazarow, Designer and AV Technologist for ESI Design. At certain times, the LED ceiling appears as the sky outside, with computer-generated birds flying above shoppers’ heads. “And we all know, birds never flock the same way twice,” Lazarow explains. “We developed with Float4 this idea of a digital skylight, where the birds — every time you come in — never fly the same pattern again.”

At other times, the digital ceiling at 900 North Michigan Shops might feature products on sale throughout the mall, rendered and presented in dynamic, graphical ways. ESI Design provided a custom content management system so mall operators could upload existing images and have them included in generative scenes.

“It’s a mix of pre-rendered, pre-shot footage and primarily generative content that changes itself through software over time,” Lazarow says. “There’s always this worry, when you do a large-scale, permanent installation, about the work it will take to feed the beast and create new content for it. We like to show people how to own the system going forward. With today’s technologies and the right software partner, if you can imagine it, you can make it.”

Content That Reacts To Shoppers

Moreover, “in order for content to resonate with passersby, it should also be responsive,” said David Bianciardi, Founder of experience design studio AV&C. Meaning the displays in retail spaces aren’t just playing media — generative or pre-created — they’re also “sensitive to context, people, what they’re doing there, and they respond with relevant content,” he noted.

Bianciardi refers to this as “deep media,” combining generative content with artificial intelligence to make a retail video installation reactive to what’s going on around it. “Deep media is about creating something beautiful and exciting while being responsible to stakeholder strategy,” he said. “It’s a platform that can renew itself.” It’s a living platform that transforms a physical space through intelligent, expressive digital layers that can keep the relevant storytelling going years into the future.

Brian Dyches, Growth Director at CirbisStudio and an authority on global retail design, and Tammuz Dubnov, Founder of the experiential technology company Zuzor, have worked with many retail brands to transform their locations into destinations. They believe solutions like sensor-driven and augmented reality (AR) experiences can help put a brand on the map. “A retail destination is an environment where you feel like you can sit, relax, enjoy, get perspective, be inspired and learn,” Dyches says.

In Dubnov’s work, videowalls featuring otherwise static content come to life when a customer engages with them, making the shopper an active participant in the message. Displays can sense a person nearby and generate appropriate content. If a child approaches the videowall, for example, it can play child-friendly content. And with the right sensors in place, shoppers can change or manipulate the content through gestures like waving their arms.

Like other forms of deep, generative media, content that is user-driven and interactive helps meet the challenge of keeping retailers’ digital signage fresh. It engages audiences and keeps their attention for longer periods of time. And if it’s truly engaging, it ends up on social media. Bonus.


Joe’ Lloyd is Senior Director of Communications at AVIXA™, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association. AVIXA connects retail leaders and AV professionals to create a more successful future through the integration of compelling audiovisual experiences. AVIXA represents the $247 billion global commercial AV industry and produces InfoComm trade shows around the world. For more information, visit www.avixa.org/retailAV.

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