Adding zest to the bricks and mortar retail

Facial recognition technology from Omron Electronic Components Europe has enabled in-store digital marketing solutions experts ANQ to create a dynamic digital signage platform that allows retailers to deliver tailored content to customers in-store.

In the early days of online, many retailers enjoyed incremental revenues while continuing growth and profits in their bricks-and-mortar outlets. But declining consumer spending and cutthroat competition has seen traditional retailers turning to technology to create give customers a reason to visit their local stores.

It is with no small irony that this piece is passing through the editorial process on the day that Marks and Spencer announced a 62% decline in pre-tax profits and 100 store closures. Consumers interviewed for BBC television cited the decline in household incomes, premium pricing and old-fashioned clothing styles as reasons why they had fallen out of love with their local M&S.

But M&S is not alone: UK retailers suffered sharpest sales drop for 22 years in the month of April. Immediate negative factors included bad weather, the squeeze on household budgets and the timing of Easter which all contributed to a hefty cut in consumer spending according to a report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG. Sales were down by 3.1% in April, the biggest decline since the survey was launched in 1995.

Spending on non-food items has been particularly hard hit over the last three months, and retailers are braced for tough trading conditions to continue for the rest of the year even though wages have now started to rise more quickly than prices.


Evidence of tough times in retail were supplied in the form of closures since the beginning of last year:

·        Toys R Us: closed 180 stores employing 3,000 staff.

·        Maplin: closed 200 electronics and gadget stores.

·        Warren Evans: closed in February this year

·        East: shut nearly 50 outlets folded in January.

·        Juice Corporation: (with brands including Elizabeth Emanuel and Joe Bloggs) closed in January.

·        Multiyork: 50 stores went into administration in November.

·        Feather & Black: with 25 outlets also went into administration in November.

And the story is unlikely to end there: the New Look chain is reported as having debts of more than £1bn and has lost some of its credit insurance cover. In the 10 months to Christmas, sales fell 11% and losses hit £123m. The company intends to close 60 stores and change its fashion ranges but faces a struggle to encourage new consumers into its stores. Debenhams, a 178-store chain, is axing one in four of its managers and is said to be considering closures to cut costs. Profits and margins are down as a result price cuts in the face of competition.

Finally, House of Fraser’s owners, Sanpower, are said to have injected capital to see the store through Christmas. Its debt is rated as junk. The retailer is attempting to reduce the size of its stores by 30% and is said to have asked landlords to cut rents.

Market factors

Already struggling retailers have been affected by a range of factors top of the squeeze on spending. These include: higher labour costs. (as a result of increases in the minimum wage); consumers moving to online shopping; increased demand for home delivery (even same day delivery); increased marketing costs; and price competition from the discounters.

These special factors, the overall trend in UK retail sales is downwards. The BRC/KPMG survey showed an even bigger drop in monthly sales once the figures were adjusted for changes in the amount of shop-floor space over the past year. On a like-for-like basis spending fell by 4.2%.

Market data and analytics company Global Data’s senior retail analyst, Mamequa Boafo, has highlighted a fundamental change in consumer behaviour: “The prioritisation of leisure spending and preference for experiences over ‘stuff’ will see consumers shopping from their own wardrobes this year, utilising what they have already and only buying clothing items they can truly justify spending money on.”

UK phenomenon

The extent to which this retail decline is a UK-only phenomenon has been raised by AVIXA. They say, from a U.S. perspective, that: “Contrary to popular belief, retail is healthy, reaching approximately $5.1 trillion in revenue in 2017 and growing 4 percent annually for the past 8 years, according to the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Labour Statistics, and the National Retail Federation. With less than 10 percent of revenue captured online, brick-and-mortar stores still present an industry rich with opportunities for pro-AV providers.”

According to AVIXA’s Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis (IOTA), retail is expected to generate $19.6 billion in pro-AV solution revenue globally in 2018. AVIXA’s new 2018 Market Opportunity Analysis Report (MOAR) covering retail, investigates the opportunities and challenges for providers of pro-AV solutions and technologies.

MOAR starts by attempting to understand consumers on their journey through the retail experience. The report then focuses on the clients of AV solutions – often referred to as end-users – including the influencers and decision-makers involved in pro-AV systems integration projects. For the retail vertical, this includes those who are responsible for the consumer experience and/or the audiovisual technologies deployed in stores. Finally, the study provides a view from pro-AV integrators on their successes and challenges working in retail.

Staying completive

Looking to stay competitive against the rise of e-commerce, brick-and-mortar retailers are evolving into more experiential locations with AV as a strong component. Survey results show large capital improvement plans among retailers in support of this trend, generating about $6 billion in projected AV related spending in North America alone.

Surprisingly, only about half of AV providers are currently active in retail. Reasons vary, but lack of knowledge about the space plays a key role. Retailers say they often will work with more traditional IT firms, general contractors, or architects instead. This may keep some AV providers out of the mix, noting they are less familiar with the category and unsure how to break into the market.

The majority of retailers surveyed are planning to integrate mature technology, such as audio equipment and video displays. The same is true of the bundling of technologies into solutions such as security, point of sale, and digital signage. Retailers are not yet investing in newer technologies like augmented or virtual reality, although the interest is there.

Both end-users and providers of AV solutions agree the two biggest challenges faced by retailers are technology selection and adherence to budget. Retailers rely on AV providers’ knowledge of the various options to help them determine how to efficiently and effectively create exceptional consumer experiences.

“As shown in this report, a large portion of AV providers are not playing in the retail space. And with a thriving industry, they’re doing themselves a disservice,” said Sean Wargo, Senior Director of Market Intelligence, AVIXA. “This is leading retailers to rely on service providers that don’t necessarily have AV expertise to deliver experiential retail environments. This report will outline the opportunities retail presents for pro-AV providers and offer thoughts on successfully breaking into the market.”

Enriching the retail experience

However necessary in the short term, store closures and staff cuts do little to encourage consumers back into spending money in bricks-and-mortar stores. For shoppers looking for experiential shopping trips to the point where the shop itself becomes the destination, recent developments in AV technology have much to offer.

1.      Personalising the experience

More and more businesses are updating their signage to contemporary digital options and with good reason. Research has shown that eight out of ten customers have entered a store because a digital sign caught their interest and 71 percent of people think that advertising on digital billboards stands out more than online ads

Out-dated static message boards have been replaced by more technologically advanced options such as dynamic holographic displays and 3D imagery. These sorts of displays are being used to great effect – to create atmospheres, engage audiences and effectively communicate messaging. The digital signage industry has seen a huge growth in its uses, and the capabilities of the technology itself, driving changes in the way society is interacting with signage in all areas of their lives from shops, hospitals, work and leisure.

But what of next-generation digital spaces? Joe Rabah, Managing Director for EMEA, RMG Network looks at technology that can turns every visit into a personalised experience.

“Imagine that as you enter the airport, there is a personalised message welcoming you, and then further tailored messaging accompanies you throughout your shop, bar and restaurant visits. Then it finally directs you to your departure gate, where you arrive fully informed and having enjoyed a variety of targeted promotions along the way. Well there’s no need to just imagine any more; the technology for this is already in place. But just how do we start using it effectively, and what impact will it have?”

“Whether it’s at work, in a leisure venue or an educational outlet, digital signage is continually evolving and offering more than the traditional static message boards that consumers have previously been accustomed to. With the average human’s attention spanning roughly eight seconds, it is no surprise that these outdated message boards have struggled to capture and engage audiences. Advancements in display technologies now mean that this no longer needs to be an issue, though. Developments in digital signage now mean that messaging can be displayed in a host of different ways, from curved LED screens, flat panel displays and glasses-free 3D screens to holograms, 4K ultra-HD screens, arena floor projection and interactive technologies. There is a plethora of new signage technology designed to interact with audiences in a more engaging and immersive manner.”

“These new dynamic display technologies are extremely adaptable, versatile and flexible, fitting into any environment, complementing the surroundings and bringing the environment and messaging to life. For example, LED screens have the ability to be placed indoors and outdoors, to be curved or built to a particular size-grabbing attention and deliver messages with impact and vibrancy. Holograms can create interest and deliver imagery and messaging subtly without changing the surrounding landscape.”

“The digital signage industry has not only seen huge growth in its uses, but also in the capabilities of the technology itself, driving changes in the way society is interacting with signage. A recent study has revealed that eight out of ten customers have entered a store because a digital sign caught their interest and 71 percent of people said they felt advertising on digital billboards stood out more than online ads[i].”

“We are now surrounded by digital landscaping, which is providing users with immersive tailored experiences and increasing engagement in various different areas of our lives. In business it can be used to great effect to increase employee engagement, create moods and change atmospheres within the workplace as required. In an educational environment, it can help deliver an enhanced student experience, providing targeted information regarding a student’s curriculum or interests, or improving their safety, acting as a real-time guidance system, and in leisure venues digital signage can attract more customers, create atmosphere and provide a cost-effective way to communicate to all visitors. The uses are multiple and, if used well, can benefit many areas of our lives.”

In order to drive engagement, the content displayed on these digital displays has to be informative, tailored and entertaining. It is not just the hardware that has evolved, but also the software behind the displays, as marketing today is driven by ‘big data’ which provides insight into consumer usage and interaction. Digital signage is an extremely effective tool for collecting data as the screens have cameras that can track exactly who is walking past and then engage with that person.

Usage of clever data-driven solutions has increased sales for some organisations, such as the O2 arena, which recently announced that it will be going 100 percent digital to deliver more dynamic offers to its customers. In fact, one of the venue’s refreshment suppliers reported that it had seen a seven to twelve percent uplift in sales, which it has directly attributed to an increasing in advertising on digital screens. Due to the large amount of data being continually collected, Artificial Intelligence (AI) allows the data to be quickly sorted and analysed and for the messages to be personalised. These messages are then displayed on a variety of platforms, from LED screens to mobile phones and holograms.

Despite privacy concerns, research conducted by Deloitte suggests that more than one in four 16 to 24-year olds are happy for businesses to use their personal information to offer them more personalised products or services[iii]. If properly implemented, a reliable digital signage system will allow users to provide seamless personalised messaging to a wide audience across various locations and platforms, benefitting all involved. In a retail environment, these bespoke messages have been seen to grow and retain customers’ trust, as well as help maximise ROI as customers are being presented with the most relevant content possible. This helps to increase brand loyalty and maintain retail presence on the high street.

“The possibilities for digital signage are endless. From train stations to motorways, in-store shopping, employee engagement and emergency announcements, digital displays are capable of creating atmospheres, invoking emotion and acting as an effective communications tool. Combining these displays with data-driven technology and innovation is what creates market-leading signage solutions that are not only able to go beyond purely display technology, but also deliver value to their audiences and the businesses using them.”

2.      Automating interaction

Facial recognition technology from Omron Electronic Components Europe has enabled in-store digital marketing solutions experts, ANQ, to create a dynamic digital signage platform that allows retailers to deliver tailored content to customers in-store.

ANQ have used Omron’s Human Vision Component, a fully integrated, ready-to-use facial recognition module, in their digital signage platform to significantly improve retail customers’ in-store experience by providing relevant content on the digital signage screens that they see, and retailers with improved performance metrics for their signage.

Lee Gibson, Managing Director, ANQ comments “As digital signage is maturing and developing so is the greater need for strategic application.  Retailers are already well versed in consumer data and insights and are now looking at how their digital signage can add further benefits, both in terms of customer experience and business insights. Our dynamic digital signage offering gives customers more tailored content and through video analytics, retailers can build a better picture of what’s working in-store.”

ANQ have also developed a fully integrated Customer Analytics Module, which works behind the scenes using Omron’s facial recognition technology, to provide valuable insights through anonymously capturing customer data.  All the collected data can be accessed through ANQ’s BI web portal or can be data shaped to the customers’ requirements for ‘Big Data’ analysis.

Lee Gibson adds, “Working with Omron, we were impressed with the HVC module, not only for the multiple detection factors but also because 80% of the processing is done on the board. The module provided a ready to use solution that included a camera and processor, delivering ready to use data at its outputs. This meant we were then able to add our algorithms on top of this data for all levels of our platform quickly and easily.  What’s great is that as well as offering dynamic digital signage for new installs, we can also upgrade existing digital signage to give retailers more insights and flexibility of content.”

The fully integrated or standalone video analytics platform from ANQ, allows for data to be analysed based on gender, age estimation, dwell time, expression and head/gaze direction as well as a count of general versus engaged people.

HVC builds on the Omron OKAO Vision software, a proven set of image recognition algorithms used in over 500 million digital cameras, mobile phones and surveillance robots around the world. It integrates ten image key image sensing functions, a camera and an external interface. Developers can detect a human face, hand or body, and implement face recognition, gender detection, age estimation, mood estimation, facial pose estimation, gaze estimation, and blink estimation.

HVC-P2 can capture, detect and recognise a face over a distance of up to 3m and will provide a confidence level with its reading. The module can estimate the subject’s mood based on one of five expressions. It can also detect a human body up to 17m away and a hand at a distance of 6m. HVC implements the OKAO software on a hardware platform complete with camera.

Facial recognition technology from Omron Electronic Components Europe has enabled in-store digital marketing solutions experts ANQ to create a dynamic digital signage platform that allows retailers to deliver tailored content to customers in-store.


3.      Digitising the retail advisor

With online channels increasingly putting the pressure on high street outlets, it’s no wonder that retailers are looking to technology to provide innovation that will pull the shoppers in. The physical store is still a vital influencer on potential purchase decisions. But sometimes customers find poor service and difficulties finding products create barriers to them buying the goods they want.

To address this, many stores or brands employ specialist sales teams or in-store product experts as part of their marketing strategy.  But as budgets are squeezed, can technology offer a solution that allows a high enough staff coverage to fully meet their clients’ needs efficiently?

Information kiosks are a traditional complement to in-store staff but cannot offer the same level of personal interaction that you get when talking to a human being. That scaling up of face-to-face interactive support across multiple outlets is something many retailers have a challenge with and it is an issue that technology can address.

One solution that tackles this scalability issue head-on is Vgreet from Vpod.  It’s a product at the forefront of a new way for shoppers to engage with retailers. Offering a complete, end-to-end solution, it helps the retailer can get the most benefit from its important connections. And it makes customer interactions immediate, focused and easy-to-manage.

In a nutshell, Vgreet is a big screen smart device that uses video conferencing technology, combined with content management software. Amongst countless other uses, it gives instant and personal access to product experts. This live communications tool opens up service like nothing else on the market, allowing shoppers to talk to a real person immediately – without stretching the retailer’s resources. The deployment of video and audio can happen simultaneously whilst displaying other content.

The solution helps retailers to maximise their expert human resources.  A centralised team of highly knowledgeable specialists, based anywhere in the world, can be accessed via a network of screens across multiple outlets.  It’s a highly scalable, extremely cost-effective solution for retailers, and with improved access to retail sales team or product experts, for shoppers it’s the next-best thing to talking to a live person.  Indeed, with its incredible range of applications, Vpod claim that in many cases, it’s even better.

This type of solution offers:

•        Live customer interactions and demonstrations – that can be recorded and used across omni- or multi-channel formats, such as social media, websites, video on demand and so on

•        Improved consumer experience – information, product details and live expert advice are there at the swipe of a touchscreen, using the familiar gestures we all use with smartphones

•        Personalised interactions – uses face recognition to greet customers and display relevant promotions and discounts, helping shoppers to make informed, rapid decisions

•        Maximised budgets –  keeps clients happy and delivers a personal customer experience instantly – without a huge staff overhead

•        Pro-active engagement – can be programmed to interact with clients in different ways depending on their behaviours, reducing customer churn and enhancing brand loyalty

Because the team at Vpod are inhouse developers and designers, they create software that is totally bespoke to each customer.  This gives them a huge amount of flexibility to tailor Vgreet entirely to individual client’s needs.  From simple ‘help’ interfaces, to complex video tools that allow customers to ‘try on’ outfits, the system is fully customisable. And with sophisticated reporting, retailers gain a greater insight into call times, dwell times, customer demographics and advert efficiency, resulting in a compelling ROI.

In a recent project, Vgreet proved to be a great conversation starter at BT’s immersive Innovation Centre at Adastral Park in Suffolk – one of the world’s most famous telecoms and computing addresses, with a campus that covers 100 acres, and home to around 4000 scientists, IT experts and engineers.

The Innovation Centre is a showcase for the latest thinking in key sectors including retail, health and banking.  As the first point of contact, Vgreet acts as the Centre’s concierge, allowing visitors to connect to specific areas via video.

Vgreet allows video exchange calls to be routed in the same way as audio, with users forwarded to the correct remote specialist. It’s an installation that demonstrates just how powerful Vgreet can be when centralising expertise.

Vgreet from Vpod is a product at the forefront of a new way for shoppers to engage with retailers.


Vgreet from Vpod: improved consumer experience – information, product details and live expert advice are there at the swipe of a touchscreen, using the familiar gestures we all use with smartphones.

4.      Let the products speak for themselves!

Digital signage solutions are by no means new in retail, and it’s no surprise, as it is an indispensable technology, a powerful, persuasive and dynamic communications platform that is proven to increase customer engagement.

STiNO offers something rather different to the many other solutions on the market. It’s a brand without a lot of recognition for two reasons.  Firstly, it does not have a history of being actively sold through a reseller channel, and secondly, it’s often adopted as an OEM solution.  But with over 40,000 screens currently deployed with STiNO software worldwide, it’s a well-established and highly proven brand.

It’s a solution that makes complex campaign distribution simple, supporting the whole of an infrastructure from a central server. For example, SEAT runs their internal electronic communications system across their German dealership network using the software. The benefits are:

•        Total flexibility in the hardware that can be used, giving the ability to choose your own software regardless of platform or screen type

•        OEM availability for client branding opportunities

•        Exceptionally cost-effective scalability, with all functionality inbuilt in the software

•        Easy budgeting with leasing, rental or purchasing options

The flexibility aspect is key.  A SaaS solution, STiNO claim to be one of the only providers to offer digital signage software that supports diversified hardware platforms – from PC to SoC systems running Windows, Android and Linux operating systems.

The solution also delivers support for fully interactive applications via multi-touch displays, as well as remote management possibilities using mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. What this means is that it is entirely adaptable to changing needs.  It integrates equally well with a Windows player for a kiosk application or a hand-held tablet running on Android.  Hence why it is an ideal solution to support any type of digital marketing strategy.

From back office communications to point of sale interaction, proximity marketing to on-shelf promotions, customer recognition to store mapping, solutions such as STiNO do much more than replace printed posters.

Both of these technologies can deliver solutions for modern retail digital marketing, such as proximity marketing.


SEAT flagship dealerships rely on total interactivity

Spanish automotive company SEAT, part of the Volkswagen Group, manufactures reliable, beautiful cars.   The company has undertaken a programme of redevelopment in its flagship dealerships in Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Alsbach, to make these outlets significantly more attractive to a discerning, younger target group. A central part of that redevelopment was the introduction of interactive digital signage – a pilot project designed to specifically address the core needs of a typical SEAT customer.

Digital signage platform provider STiNO

was involved in this project right from the start. Their product manager Swen Topp describes the particular challenges faced.  “We realised that in the SEAT flagship dealerships, the need went far beyond the level of conventional signage solutions. This is a project in which automated interactivity is integral to the whole breadth of electronic customer communications.”

“We had to address a complex variety of functions. The customer experience starts with a large welcome screen in the reception area, with multiple touch points.  In waiting areas, visitors access entertainment and information content.   And in the heart of the showroom, the customer can experience the SEAT car configurator on an interactive touch screen. Additional interactive screens are positioned next to each model in the showroom, explaining the car’s features, along with further small screens at the service desk. Last but not least, there is a large screen positioned in the car pick-up area.  It’s an opportunity to congratulate the customer on the great choice they have made – and to demonstrate additional accessories that they can buy, such as roof and bicycle racks.”

The system has opened up totally new customer dialogue opportunities, with staff reporting an increased level of customer enthusiasm, particularly when using the interactive functions. Whichever part of the dealership the customer is in, they are invited to discover, and interact with, the creative and fun side of SEAT. From the company’s view point, they believe they are harnessing customer emotion and using this in a pioneering way to improve the service they deliver.

As Topp concludes, “the success of this programme was down to the level of automation creating a hugely positive impact on the user.  Interacting with the system is entirely intuitive – as natural and easy as using a phone, for customers and staff alike.”


STiNO was involved in this SEAT project right from the start.

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