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Looking Smart: New Gen Digital Signage Raises Performance Bar

February 8, 2012

Digital signage for retail, at least partially written off with the advent of smartphones and tablet computers, may be back in vogue with a few high tech twists. At last month's NRF convention, I had the chance to take a look at four installations where Intel has partnered with retailers and/or brands to come up with walls and kiosks that engage shoppers, offer them the chance to have a little fun and experience a personalized shopping experience in ways akin to online shopping.

According to an Intel spokesperson, the company is not looking to get into the business of selling these devices. They work with partner brands and retailers who use third parties to build the machines. The company's objective is to help retailers better understand how the physical shopping experience can be enhanced with technology.

Here's a peek at what four of Intel's partners are doing:

Macy's is currently testing a Beauty Spot kiosk in four stores. This is essentially a unit with a very large touchscreen surrounded by product. It offers the self-service oriented shopper the opportunity to choose from a variety of "looks," get customized recommendations and e-mail them to herself or print a list for use in-store. Macy's has a concierge who is stationed at the kiosk with a tablet to provide additional help. Rather than having to shop the entire cosmetics department, the shopper in a hurry or who wants to find everything in one place can get a big head start here.

The HSN TOUCHWALL is a 13 x 8-foot interactive screen that can be used in places like malls, sports arenas and airports. It offers the user a chance to play a game in which they can learn about various products. Purchases would occur later via their smartphone. In this iteration, the wall was set up to promote a pizza making game starring chef Wolfgang Puck and highlighting cookware offered for sale.

Kraft's iSample Experience is a "smart" vending machine that allows customized, interactive product sampling. Basically, this automates the sampling process, allows the brand to collect data, and provides the shopper with a little entertainment. The installation at the show provided samples of Kraft's Temptations, a dessert line for adults. The machine is able to distinguish the gender and age group of each user via an optical scanner and Intel's Audience Impression Metrics (AIM) Suite. In this case, adults are offered a choice of samples while kids get a humorous message.

Adidas' adiVerse is a virtual footwear wall displaying virtual 3D products shoppers can interact with. Anonymous video analytics allow Adidas to understand shopping patterns, trend, and demographics. Shoppers can buy what they see via a tablet-based checkout.


Discussion Questions:

Discussion Questions: Do you think "smarter" kiosks and digital signage will have a big impact at retail in the near to medium term? What do you think are the best applications and environments for this equipment?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Which of these four installations do you see having the greatest application in retail spaces?


Smarter kiosks and interactive displays can impact consumer purchases. I like the Kraft iSample. It can deliver more samples for a greater number of hours than would be otherwise affordable.

There is plenty of room for manufacturers and retailers to experiment with devices that engage consumers. Only a small fraction of consumers use smartphones and even fewer use tablets to shop, and through infrared, blue tooth and QR technologies, the smartphone can become part of the overall shopping experience.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

We're seeing lots of momentum by retailers and CPG brands to engage shoppers at the store by leveraging dynamic digital signage. While it's true there is also a big focus on mobile devices, interactive signage works very well for a more immersive and engaging experience for assisted shopping, promotions, and branding. Mobile devices work well for personalized or "one-to-one" engagement, while digital signage is a one-to-many channel.

Also, with the focus on shopper marketing as a discipline, there is an increased focus on the fact that the store is still the star, and using digital technologies in the store is a muli-faceted discipline that needs a holistic vision for tying together the store experience with online, mobile and social media efforts.

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Matt Schmitt, President, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, Reflect

There remains a huge opportunity for retailers to employ smart kiosks and other interactive applications in-store. This is particularly true for those retailers that engage customers from a total shopping and brand experience.

Retailers who bore customers with their environments concede shoppers' attention to their smartphones and while there, to other brands and applications.

While mobilists will argue, in some cases correctly, that the smartphone is the ultimate digital kiosk, it remains a very small footprint in a big retail space. Retailers need to remember that they still have the ultimate interactive device, the merchandise, both real and visual. The challenge, like all other customer touch points, is making it relevant through the use of customer data.

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Phil Rubin, CEO, rDialogue

I think the technology is more of a medium- to long-term play in the US, while it is a "now" play in Korea and Japan, where versions of these technologies are already in use due to the early adoption of smartphone technologies there. I have not seen much consumer interest in smart kiosk applications, like the Macy's Beauty Spot, because the consumer if already in store expects a knowledgeable Beauty Advisor to assist.

It is still important for retailers and manufacturers to continue to test and pilot these. One of them will hit and when it does, it will be significant.

Mike Osorio, Senior VP Organizational Change Management, DFS Group

I am not terribly optimistic about the future of smart kiosks and digital signage in the retail environment. The challenges involved in traffic flow and translating these kiosks into incremental revenue have prevented such technology from taking hold, to date.

At the same time, these kiosks do offer significant entertainment value and can provide a critical role for customers who are in the research phase of their purchase decision. The challenge is that since retail stores have only a limited square footage, this entertainment and research center has potential to actually detract from total sales rather than increase it.

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Mark Price, Managing Partner, LiftPoint Consulting, Inc.

This is great stuff, straight out of "Blade Runner." I hope it has a big impact because it's fun. It will require variety, of course, because we're used to lots of choices for our digital entertainment. The "pizza making game" will grow tired very quickly. The installations will require extensive regular maintenance, especially those that the public can touch.

All of the venues listed in Al's article -- depending on where the sampling kiosks will be located -- can benefit from this new technology. I excepted the sampling kiosks because they will probably be installed in supermarkets. Al didn't specifically reference the supermarket venue perhaps because three of the four programs listed did not, either. The unique issue in supermarkets vis-a-vis razzle-dazzle video displays is traffic congestion. Several shoppers with their carts ganged up in front of an entertaining video display can shut down whole aisles and restrict access to the stuff for sale.

M. Jericho Banks PhD, President, CEO, Forensic Marketing LLC

The Macy's example shows how kiosks can supplement store associates. HSN illustrates the branding and awareness benefits of digital out-of-home. iSample replaces higher cost channels for sampling.

All are steps in the right direction, but they're more about reducing costs. The revenue models are vague.

To that point, the use of digital signage in automated retail puts a revenue model to work because actual goods are sold. Digital media can both draw more traffic to kiosks, as in the case of Coinstar and Best Buy kiosks, or provide more personalized recommendations, as Blockbuster Express (sold to Redbox for $100MM) was developing.

I believe the highest, measurable ROI will come from automated retail applications like these that not only reduce overhead costs of retail but also convert more shoppers on the spot. They also provide a "quick trip" alternative to e-commerce, as the success of Redbox in gaining Netflix customers has demonstrated.

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Dan Frechtling, SVP Product and Marketing, CMO, G2 Web Services

Intel's booth at the NRF show had some outstanding examples of digital signage. The issue for retailers, though, is content. It will be interesting to see how retail companies staff up to address this opportunity.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

Kiosks and digital signage have been the "next thing" in retail for more than 20 years. They clearly can be used to enhance the in-store experience and solve real customer experience challenges.

But I expect to see their overall use for retail decline. Most of the one-to-one/personalized experiences we might have once expected to deliver on in-store technology are clearly going to happen on consumers mobile devices in the store. It's a much more scalable, affordable, and personal experience (while respecting privacy).

Place based digital experiences are going to be reserved for large format "featured displays" that are designed to be one-to-many affairs. Think very big screens, multi-touch, and gesture based interfaces, and integration to a shoppers own mobile device for personalization.

In the very near future the overwhelming majority of shoppers will walk in the store with a powerful computer in their pocket, that has their purchasing preferences stored on it, and will know exactly where the shopper is standing in the store and what products are in front of her. Retailers are going to want a shopping environment that interacts with that device, rather than providing their own screens in each aisle that can only serve one shopper at a time.

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Jason Goldberg, VP Commerce Strategy, Razorfish

Digital signage is an ideal platform for the designer or product manager to communicate their special message to the shopper on the selling floor. In fashion, this can help shopper overcome subtle objections that the sales associate typically cannot. "What occasions will this work in?" "Is this style going to last?" "How would I accessorize?" "What is story with the fabric and durability?"

The keys are to be able to deliver this message with some precision exactly when and where it is needed. For that there is great opportunity for digital signage to interact with smartphones.

The chief obstacle to this kind of information delivery is both content and infrastructure. Retailers need inexpensive, flexible way for managing and routing this content from supplier to store. This shifts the conversation to in-store technology where bandwidth is and elasticity are so 20th century.

Bill Robinson, Principal, Bill Robinson Associates

I can speak to this from the perspective of our clients in the food service vertical; where we see a lot of potential for exploiting digital signage. There is a lot of work and testing happening with digital signage in the QSR industry. Digital menu boards allow for a wide range of possibilities to customize/personalize the experience. Promotional items can rotate based on time of day, or temperature, or regional differences. As mobile technology and NFC become more widely adopted, there will be space to have a very personalized experience when pulling up to your favorite drive thru.

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Martin Mehalchin, Partner, Lenati, LLC

To Jason's point, I should mention that the HSN TOUCHWALL can interact with 4 shoppers individually, at one time. And, I believe all of these installations have one form or another of interaction with the user via their smartphone.

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Al McClain, CEO, Founder, RetailWire.com

Smarter kiosks? Maybe, but only if its tied in with mobile communications and apps. Digital signage? We've been over this again and again. I still say no!

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Jerry Gelsomino, Principal, FutureBest

"Minority Report" keeps getting closer and closer. Yes, I believe there is a great future for consumer-facing technology in stores. I like some of the newer 3D kiosks/signs that put the product virtually in the hands of the shopper. Great stuff.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

Sure, with the advent of smart paper and wireless, the cost will continue to fall and the capabilities will become greater. I can see a time where this technology will be used for everything from display signage to shelf strips.

I can also see a time when the store manager will have the ability to quickly make changes to the signs with a swipe on his personnel tablet.

Joe Nassour, Chief Technology Officer, RetailTactics

The key for retailers is to go beyond simple "digital signage" approach and to make the experience more immersive, interactive and intuitive on the touchscreen interface.

The best applications and environments are those that deliver immediate value to consumers as they engage with the screens: a) complex products/vast selection (the screens can educate users about the products and services available; users can narrow down their options; staff can guide them through the process), b) busy store (the screens offer self-service browsing opportunities to users, while they wait for sales assistance), c) efficiency (the screens facilitate the buying process, sending all the purchase/shopping cart details to the POS for easy checkout).

Consumers want to get what they want as quickly and as easily as possible -- the interactive digital solutions in-store should enable that.

Christopher Krywulak, President and CEO, iQmetrix

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