The retail industry has demonstrated remarkable resiliency throughout the pandemic, embracing and accelerating the adoption of technologies that promote convenience and safety. Digital signage, in particular, has proven a valuable asset in circumstances demanding real-time information and adaptability.
As we cautiously come out the other side of the pandemic, both retailers and shoppers hold new expectations for the in-store experience, and retailers are evaluating what key learnings to apply moving forward. Three practical features of digital signage justify a leading role for the technology in the post-pandemic retail environment.
1. Cloud-based Content Management Systems for Speed and Flexibility
After a year defined by urgency, uncertainty and physical limitations, business operators recognize that timeliness, flexibility and remote access are more important than ever. Customers and employees demand accurate, timely information amidst near constant change.
From displaying safety protocols, product availability or new services for customers, to delivering staff trainings and updates for employees, digital signage with a cloud-based CMS maintains accurate, current communications across locations. Cloud-based CMS gives retailers remote access to their entire network of displays, anywhere at any time, allowing them to schedule, customize, monitor and troubleshoot content in real-time across many sites.
A convenient way to coordinate a digital signage update on a mass scale, the system also allows retailers to tailor digital signage messaging by site or a select group of sites. For example, retailers with locations in multiple states or counties may need to customize their digital signage to reflect regional variances in COVID guidelines.
Or, a retailer may want to offer shoppers in one region particular promotions and sales that may differ from ones offered in another. The value of cloud-based CMS in a market that demands real-time information-sharing and mass customization will drive more retailers to adopt the technology in the coming months.
2. Voice Integration for Touchless Engagement
The coronavirus has made people aware of the risks associated with physical touch points, and potentially lasting concerns about hygiene are driving a rise in touchless technologies across the retail experience. In the realm of digital signage, that portends an uptick in voice integration powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
Intuitive, accurate and quick-responding voice-enabled interactions elevate digital signage from passive to active, acting as a reliable virtual assistant to engage customers. The technology can respond to voice commands and help customers locate products, display item information or promotions, make recommendations and even process orders.
For instance, Sonic Drive-In, in partnership with Mastercard and self-serve kiosk company Zivelo, installed AI-powered, voice-activated menu boards at several locations to interact with customers, take orders and offer weather, time-of-day and location-specific menu suggestions.
Ultimately, integrated voice technology is only as effective as the AI algorithms that power the platform. But with the rapid advancement of AI technologies, including breakthroughs in conversational AI that foster a positive customer experience, now is a good time for retailers to make digital signage with voice integration part of their go-forward plans.
3. NFC, RFID and AR for Personalization and Customization
An “alphabet soup” of acronyms, these embedded technologies power new ways for digital signage user engagement that feel custom-tailored to meet their personal needs.
NFC (near field communication), which powers short-range wireless communications between devices, is the tech that allows tap-and-go credit cards and phones to complete a transaction via mobile wallet by holding the card or phone near the POS device. As phone-based NFC technology has become more widely adopted by consumers, other technologies, including digital signage, have started to employ it.
NFC can create one or two-way communications between a customer’s mobile phone and a digital sign. With one quick tap, a customer can get more information on a product or receive a discount offer via digital signage. Or shoppers can get data “to go” — for example, by having directions, maps, size charts, recipes or other information transferred via NFC onto their mobile devices.
Alternatively, embedding NFC in products allows retailers to put the physical digital display in the customers’ hands, delivering signage content straight to their cell phones. In one example, Adidas included an NFC tag on its 2018 World Cup soccer ball. Tapping a phone to the ball generated personalized content, including product details, challenges and contests — all in the palm of the customer’s hand.
While NFC creates a personalized experience, it also mitigates some privacy concerns. For instance, customers are more comfortable using their smartphones to enter and secure contact information than they are using a kiosk. In retail environments like pharmacies, NFC can help verify patient identity via mobile device before launching privacy-sensitive applications on a digital screen.
Like NFC, RFID can trigger signage to alter based on something brought close to it. The RFID-equipped fitting room mirrors at the Ralph Lauren flagship store in Manhattan “recognize” the clothing items the customer has selected to try on. The mirror/screen then features product information and engagement opportunities, like other available sizes and colors or the ability to contact an associate for assistance — all with a single touch.
Cosmetics retailer Sephora creates a similar, customized engagement with shoppers through the use of AR (augmented reality) that enables customers to see what products will look like on their faces. In select store locations, Sephora combines AR with RFID technology on individual products: customers merely present the lip or lash product at the display and generate an image of how it appears when applied.
An efficient and highly customized experience, this implementation also demonstrates how leading-edge digital signage can continue to mitigate hygiene concerns that are likely to linger, even as we emerge from the pandemic.
Over the past year, consumers have adopted new shopping habits and expectations that they will carry with them as they venture back to stores. Demand for real-time information, convenience and hygiene has not replaced the fundamental desire for a satisfying, personalized shopping experience. With the right implementation of leading-edge technologies, digital signage can address all of those needs and create an engaging, positive customer experience that will keep them coming back.
Jeff Bradbury is senior marketing director at Hughes Network Systems.