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The Future of Retail Media is Digital and Omnichannel

If one were to dig deep enough into the Library of Congress’s old audiovisual vaults, one would find a wealth of content from the 1950s and 60s about the ‘home,’ ‘city’ or even ‘highways’ of the future.

For all of the myriad social problems of that period, it was also a period of intense economic growth, economic prosperity, and hope for the future—specifically, a future powered by emerging technologies that showcases what was possible using digital displays and screens.

Often sporting the modern-futurist styles of Googie or Populuxe, these future spaces looked the part, dazzling, stylish, and yet functional. 

For some, it’s ‘kitschy’ and out-of-touch. For others, it’s nostalgic; if marketers have learned anything in the last two decades, it’s that nostalgia sells in the 21st century. 

It’s because of this cultural legacy that the concept of the ‘store’ of the future has always been one businesses and industry experts have been keen to speculate on. 

After all, what would it actually look like? When would we know we were there?

Why it is Well Past Time to Digitize the Storefront

Contends Andreas Hassellöf, Forbes Council Member: we’ve already been there and, in fact, there’s nothing particularly futuristic anymore about the technologies that make up the modern store. It’s all happening now, and it has largely been available for some time.

He argues that for most, what the ‘store of the future’ means today are stores that combine the physical and digital worlds seamlessly, supporting “complex omnichannel customer journeys” with full integration into supply chains, varying transaction types, and the leveraging of AI and other real-time data analytics.

“In other words, it’s a store that uses devices such as digital signage, touchscreens, IoT, RFID, sensors, and kiosks. It offers functionality such as order pickup, smart fitting rooms, endless aisles, guided selling, and multiple forms of payment, including scan and go, mobile payments, and self-checkout.”

The time is now for many retailers to play catch-up, particularly those who weren’t quick to digitize during COVID and found themselves in hot water versus competition that digitized and diversified. 

Digital Shelving: One of the Most Eye-Catching Ways to Achieve Omnichannel Engagement

Marketing trends are often changing, but there is some consistency. One that has consistently stood out is the need for more diverse and personalized ways to engage the ever-changing, fickle modern customer.

For those customers—who increasingly find themselves getting what they need via the hyper-personalized world of e-Commerce—what does a greater level of engagement look like in-store? 

It’s an important question for brick-and-mortar retailers to answer; while e-Commerce continues its rapid growth, brick-and-mortar still accounts for most of all purchases in the retail sector—85% according to the U.S. Department of Commerce

Yet, it’s a dominance that won’t last forever, as it’s projected to shrink to 72% of all retail by 2024. To continue to compete with the convenience and personalization of e-Commerce in an omnichannel world, traditional retailers need to marry those features with the immediacy.

The short answer, then, for brick-and-mortar is increasingly complex deployments of audiovisual media: displays that not only capture attention and engage, but leverage personal data in concert with a network of systems ranging from AI to Bluetooth to RFID and IoT devices to create true omnichannel engagement.

Yet, in the context of a typical store aisle, where you place that media may seem like a daunting question. How do you integrate it such that it doesn’t overwhelm or frustrate customers?

That’s a question Scott Soong, Senior Executive Vice President at SES-imagotag, asked himself often. One answer—an answer that could provide the type of dynamic information gathering, real-time communication, and compelling visuals brick-and-mortar retailers need to stay competitive with a growing e-Commerce landscape—was digital display technology.

“Shoppers walk in front of a shelf and 85% of them make a decision right then,” notes Soong. “What we’re trying to do is get consumers who are primed via various touch points on the internet or TV to be triggered to buy on the shelf.” 

Via a combination of sensors and cameras, digital shelving is able to monitor whether the product is on store shelves and if so, why it is (or isn’t) selling, then cross-referencing that data with data on (e.g.) foot traffic, doubling back to broader campaign goals to make adjustments on-the-fly. 

Digital shelving is able to do this while simultaneously using smart, colorful, sharp-looking visuals to advertise products, build brands, and even strengthen the relationship between retailers and brands by boasting a high level of monitoring, control, and customization.

To put it in context, imagine a customer walking down an otherwise traditional store aisle who could log in to a customer loyalty program that would rapidly and responsibly convey information about their preferences (whether in the form of shopping lists or spending histories).

Their personal devices could deliver that customer-provided information to smart, real-time, in-store digital systems which would then leverage AI to learn, understand, and convey what that customer wants instantly with audio and visual cues—meeting their needs in some cases before they even realized what they were via the power of AI and predictive analytics. 

All of this would not only boost sales but do so in a way that helps store management to understand what is actually going on in their stores in real-time, all while working in closer tandem with the needs of brands who can easily monitor the success of new campaigns, making tweaks as needed.

Of course, none of this would matter if digital shelving wasn’t cost-efficient. 

Notes Soong, “When thinking about the marketing dollars that are spent currently on the internet, the question becomes how one deploys that into the physical store, and how do they make sure that the dollars spent are working harder for them in the store than they are on the internet?”

Once a store’s systems are in place, the cost of that digital shelving’s upkeep is low in terms of energy usage. At the same time, the returns in the form of user engagement and sales conversions will help to more than compensate for installation and maintenance. 

Digital shelving is also just one part of the broader journey brick-and-mortar stores need to continue making to achieve true omnichannel engagement in 2023 and beyond. 

Yet, it’s an essential part: after all, what are customers doing in a retail environment if not perusing your displays? Investing in those displays in a way that speaks to modern consumers quickly becomes one of the most obvious investments a store can make as they digitize. 

“You need to integrate tools that help retailers work with their brands to create the uplift that you’re looking for in your campaigns,” notes Soong.

Retailers need to integrate tools that will have a three-fold effect: tap into new sources of revenue from brands, create uplift in store, and generate data from their store for either optimizing inventory, better understanding shoppers, or improving their in-store experience.

By leveraging the potential of smart, sensor-driven, IoT technologies such as digital shelving, you can get ahead of a digital curve that is only going to push forward more and more aggressively as the 21st-century marches onward. 

Returning to the motif of the ‘store of tomorrow,’ however, it again bears emphasis that what was once a product of distant technological imagination has in so many ways not only arrived but is waiting impatiently to be implemented into everyday operations.

Indeed, how your business relates to the very concept of its future goals is important. In other words, it constitutes your strategic posture: is the future something you hope to get to eventually, or is it something you realize you build day-by-day in the present moment?

It’s the distinction between a passive and proactive business philosophy, and in the ever-changing industry environment of 2023, that’s a difference that can make or break your business.