shoppingmall.jpgThe real opportunity for digital displays lies in the creation of ‘virtual assistants’, on-screen and in-store, argues Kevin Cooke, Chief Executive, Contracting Solutions (New Media) plc. If you read the trade press, you can’t help but be impressed by the huge number of screens being installed; every day another shopping mall, pub chain or retail outlet is being fitted out with hundreds or thousands of screens. But most of these screens today are largely paid for by the Out of Home (OOH) advertising networks themselves and installed at below cost price in the expectation that solid income streams will be generated for landlord, leaseholder and/or OOH network operator once advertisers have been attracted to advertise on these prime location screens.

But OOH advertising has a major problem. It is difficult to measure the effectiveness of OOH as compared to other forms of advertising like broadcast or print. How can you be sure that people do any more than walk past a digital bill board advertising your products and services? Solid methods of evaluation are still a couple of years away and this may partly explain why OOH ad revenues are currently falling (Source: Outdoor Advertising Agency May 2008 registered a drop of 6.7% on 2007s figures) despite the clear increase in the deployment of digital displays in retail and other public places.

Contracting Solutions (New Media) believes the real long-term opportunity lies in retailers linking their customer databases up with virtual assistants operating through small screens located around the store, perhaps triggered by dwell-time. For example the customer standing in an area of store for more than a prescribed amount of time will cause the nearest screen to wake up and offer assistance. The customer can then use the screen to make product request or alert a real assistant to come to them. They may even choose to swipe their loyalty card to receive a relevant personalised discount offer, a new product alert or (in a clothing store) run a virtual ‘try-on’, sending the picture onto a friend by text, before deciding to go any further.

Contracting Solutions believes the technology already exists to turn the retail ‘virtual assistant’ into a reality. Versatile and discreet flat screen digital displays, together with business intelligence software, retail specific visual applications and sophisticated media players make this multimedia world realisable. Digital content-builders can create libraries of mini adverts highlighting new stock and enabling virtual try-ons. The fact that retailers now have access to large amounts of data storage, bandwidth and robust network infrastructure at reasonable prices and highly sophisticated media distribution systems such as Netpractise’s Digital ProMedia (DPM) software, makes it easy to move all this data around in a timely manner. Digital display costs have also fallen dramatically; large digital display screens which would have cost £3,000 just three years ago now cost £600 and the cost of producing content has also fallen.

If venue owners had to buy their own digital signage systems instead of relying on advertising-driven third parties to pay for it, they would be much more likely to seek a return for their investment and put these screens to work to build their brand and communicate with customers more powerfully and profitably.

Contracting Solutions (New Media) plc
Tel: 0870 7560235

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