The COVID-19 pandemic may have sent everyone home for a while, but they won’t stay there for long. Brick-and-mortar businesses remain a critical component of modern life. As quarantine has shown, many people can work from home, but when it comes to eating out, visiting stores, and soliciting professional services, most can’t wait to get back to the outside world.
No one can say for sure when the world will move past the pandemic. Most likely, businesses with physical locations will return to a world that looks remarkably different from the one they left. With new pressures from regulators and healthcare authorities adding to the existing stress of regular competition, brick-and-mortar businesses must adapt to the times or lose ground to more flexible competitors.
As impactful as the pandemic has been, though, the trajectory of the retail industry remains the same as it was before. This event has temporarily put a stop to in-store visits, but as stores reopen over the coming months, shoppers will continue to be selective about where they take their business.
After getting accustomed to ordering online, people won’t visit physical locations that don’t offer something they can’t find on a website. In-store experiences, more than prices or products, will dictate the success or failure of individual locations — and digital signage will play a major role.
Leveraging digital signage in a post-pandemic world
The CDC guidelines established for reopening retail locations cover a variety of important situations. Regular cleaning with soap and water, disinfecting, training staff, maintaining social distance, and using appropriate protective gear all make appearances.
For staff and customers alike, digital signage can eliminate much of the stress associated with reopening.
By going digital, staff can attract people into their store with digital signage with messaging around the store’s commitment to safety measures, a letter from the CEO or manager, or a promotion taking place. Such visual messaging can help educate and guide customers upon entrance.
While inside the store, staff doesn’t need to swap physical signage so they are able to avoid touching too many surfaces. And patrons of stores with digital signage don’t have to deal with bits of paper or interact with staff members flitting about rearranging things.
Coronavirus-specific messaging can help as well. Store owners could use signage to display cleanup protocols before opening and after closing to help staff keep track of their new virus prevention duties. When customers arrive, the same signs could switch to communicate store policies and guidelines about visitor safety. That versatility offers a host of benefits that traditional signage can’t match.
What differentiates good digital signage?
Anyone can throw a static menu on a TV. Real digital signage goes beyond simple visuals to provide more engaging experiences for customers and more effective solutions for shop owners.
Take AI, for example. Using smart solutions, retailers can implement if/then workflows to change the message of digital signage based on algorithms. When someone with a smartphone walks by, a digital sign could change to reflect information gleaned from that phone. Digital signage can create additional buying paths for consumers, adding links to a chain that stretches from home internet to in-store experiences and increasing the likelihood of a purchase.
Personalization plays a major role in this evolution. With digital signage, retailers can deliver tech-driven experiences that differentiate their businesses from the crowd. Interactive visuals, personalized deals, unique branded experiences — with offerings like these, companies straining for customers after the pandemic can entice visitors back into their stores.
Tracking the future of digital signage
As it exists today, digital signage already makes a big difference in retailers’ ability to engage customers and ease the workload of staff. Over the next few years, those capabilities will only increase.
Some of the most notable advancements will come through new types of interactivity. Smart digital signs can help retailers learn more about their customers and adjust their engagement tactics to reflect evolving strategies. Artificial intelligence tools already make this a reality in certain advanced stores.
Augmented and virtual reality may soon create new experiences as well. Even in a post-pandemic world, in which people may not feel comfortable sharing a VR headset with a stranger, reality-altering technologies will prove useful. Special changing rooms could help shoppers see what they would look like in a new outfit without physically trying it on, for instance.
Increased focus on personalization will make the biggest difference. Static signs communicate the same message to everyone. What happens if signs create personalized experiences for repeat customers and tailor messages accordingly? The smarter the signage, the better the experience — and the more likely the sale.
The coronavirus pandemic created a world in which distancing and caution are the new normal. Retailers cannot expect to turn the tide of public opinion, nor should they put their staff members at risk, but they can lean on tools like digital signage to keep their stores safe and provide better experiences for visitors.
Bobby is the CEO of Raydiant, a digital signage provider that helps businesses turn their TVs into interactive signs that drive sales, improve the in-store experience, and reinforce brand messaging. Prior to joining Raydiant, Bobby served as the COO of Revel Systems where he worked on the front lines with over 25,000 brick and mortar retailers.
Bobby has held leadership positions including CEO, CRO, and VP of Sales at companies such as Highfive, Limos.com, EVO2, Verizon Wireless, LookSmart, ServerPlex Networks, and Sprint/Nextel. When Bobby’s not spending his time thinking about the future of brick and mortar retail, you can find him traveling, reading, or tending to his vegetable garden.