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Digital signage, a catch-all phrase that includes plasma and LCD technology, is being adopted by an ever-widening variety of retailers, foodservice establishments and mall operators.

The solutions are not being implemented simply for technology’s sake, however. Instead, they are increasingly being viewed as key competitive advantages, revenue builders and a mode of communication designed to enhance the customer shopping experience.

The retail industry’s growing interest in digital signage was in evidence at NRF’s 100th Annual Convention & EXPO last month, where NRF partnered with the Digital Screenmedia Association (DSA) to create a Digital & Outdoor Signage Pavilion.

“Since digital and outdoor signage is such an essential part of the retail experience we were thrilled to be able to bring this to our convention attendees,” says Susan Newman, senior vice president, conferences at NRF.

Pilot programs show success
One of the latest users in the retail space is Fry’s Food & Drug Stores (a division of The Kroger Co.) and its Fry’s Signature Marketplace in Arizona — an upscale store-within-a-store format that offers services like valet parking, a concierge, wine tastings, cooking classes, a lounge area with HDTVs and a butcher shop that will custom grill steaks for customers.

A pilot program involving several products from digital signage pioneer Scala was launched last September at Fry’s largest Arizona store. The retailer had been discussing the introduction of a Scala system for about a year; at the time, the majority of the chain’s ad budget was aimed at local newspapers and TV. But the company was also in the process of store refurbishment, which afforded the opportunity to discuss alternative methods for marketing its name in connection with new technology.

The project wasn’t Fry’s first venture into digital signage: The retailer used the technology to promote its collaboration with the Phoenix Suns basketball team in 2009. For the Signature Marketplace, Fry’s chose a networked, multi-screen advertising system with 15 channels running on 30 monitors designed, implemented and managed by NORVISION.

Similar pilot programs have been run at a widely divergent group of retailers. The Sprint Company recently launched its 5,500-square-foot Sprint Studio in Kansas City with the latest in digital signage technology, a project that took less than three months to implement.

Level 5 Media Group, a Scala certified partner, along with the Hammond Communications Group and IBM, developed a concierge station at the front of the store where consumers are directed to one of five interest zones, each equipped with high-definition LCD monitors playing content relevant to that zone.

A major feature of the program is the hourly “Grand Moment,” when the system lowers the ambient light and audio throughout the store and plays a single, synchronized audio and video message on all 17 monitors.

Scala took the lead in developing codes for multiple devices and third-party applications. “It may not sound unique, but firing 17 HD videos running within five separate Scala playlists … requires a great deal of sophisticated programming,” says Craig Miller, vice president of interactive media for Hammonds.

“Our customers are demanding more from digital signage than just animated content on a single display,” he adds. “Custom programming will be the rule as we move forward.”

On-site communications

Ecco, a 600-store shoe chain headquartered in Denmark, already had a reputation for high quality products and high levels of customer satisfaction when it decided to develop and implement TV Ecco, an in-store digital information network to deliver relevant messages to customers. The system was devised and installed by Denmark-based, Scala-certified Nuppenau, an IT and marketing company specializing in digital signage and retail TV networks.

The intent of the project was to find a new way to communicate with in-store customers about Ecco’s history, values and shoe comfort concept. A strategy was developed and the chain launched a pilot in six stores globally. Following the successful pilot, there are now more than 150 Ecco stores featuring the TV Ecco concept. Several premium stores also have extra screens and channels, and the system is fast becoming a standard for every new Ecco location.

“TV Ecco has become a very important communication tool in retail stores,” says Albert Kristensen, international visual merchandising manager for the chain. “It contributes to a more interesting and vivid experience for customers by presenting the Ecco values, new products and campaigns.”

Kiwi, Norway’s second-largest discount grocery chain, is using digital signage technology for internal communications. A touchscreen, placed close to employee entrances and lunchrooms, is divided into several different fields including education of new employees and short-life messaging like special offers, crisis messages, meeting announcements and information from suppliers.

Kiwi went with this approach to attract the attention of its large, primarily young workforce. The system is now used for timekeeping: All employees use the screen when starting their shifts. “We are very satisfied with the interactive screens,” says Jon Buxrud, training manager for the chain. “We’re now able to educate people quickly and deliver information to all our employees.

“To get the whole chain to think and behave alike is a challenge,” he says. “This kind of internal communication has definitely helped us to do so and is an important success criterion for us.”