Date: 07/11/2018

Is it time to challenge retailer digitisation perceptions to keep the high street relevant?

by Keith Hanley, Connected Retail Lead , MJ Flood Technology.

I have spent some time recently visiting high streets and shopping malls in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway to get a sense of the prevalence of customer facing in-store or in-window digital technology. I wanted to compare my experience to other cities around Europe where digital signage has become the norm rather than the exception.

What I found was significantly less than what I expected. In a world of increasing high street and online competition, you would expect to find more retailers trying to influence and entice footfall from their windows with dynamic digital attention-grabbing content. Instead, I saw plenty of lightboxes with printed material but no moving revolving digital content to catch the eye of the passer by.

So why in the age of the constantly connected consumer, the millennial and the emerging native digital generation does bricks and mortar retail seem slow to adopt digital marketing and digital visual strategy? Every other major European city has realised that unless content is rich and immersive and constantly evolving you are not resonating with the modern consumer. Do we need to challenge some existing retailer perceptions around digital, perceptions such as:

The cost of high and standard brightness digital screens and content management systems has reduced significantly over the last couple of years. Despite this, there still seems to be a reluctance to introduce screens into an area where they can have the most impact, windows. You would have to assume that there is still a perception in the sector that digital is more expensive than standard print costs.

In an effort to debunk this theory we participated in an exercise with one of our clients which evaluated the cost of print versus digital. This client used printed window displays which they changed once a week. We looked at the costs for new artwork, the printing of advertisements and the cost to physically swap out the printed panels once a week. We then compared it to the cost of a digital signage solution as a monthly operational expense spreading the cost over 3 years to include all hardware, licensing and support outlays.

Not only was the digital option cheaper to run on a weekly basis but it allowed the client to be more dynamic and strategic in terms of the ad copy they were running in the windows.

Content and Content Management

Another significant barrier to digital seems to be the creation and management of content. A retailer’s primary concern is not the creation and management of content, for many retailers they simply do not have large teams of marketers designing and distributing immersive digital content. I think that it is up to service providers in this space to offer turnkey solutions to retailers such as, content design, content management, distribution, and support. I believe a marriage of creative and technology can help retailers not only dip their toe into the opportunity that digital provides. But also provide valuable feedback on what content is working and resonating with customers while also driving footfall and sales.

The Pace of Technological Advancement

When considering what digital strategy suits you as a retailer it can be difficult to decide where to start. Digital signage, in-store interactivity, self-serve, omnichannel versus multichannel, virtual, augmented or mixed reality, artificial intelligence or maybe testing a bot or two!

Is the pace of change the largest disincentive when it comes implementing a digital strategy? Wherever possible I think service providers need to bring retailers on a low cost and low risk digital adoption journey. Service providers need to be able to assist their retail clients to build the necessary business cases to adopt digital through pilots, proof of concepts and some old fashion trial and error.

For the survival of the high street as we know it, maintaining relevancy to the modern consumer through digitisation in its many forms is imperative. As service providers with an interest in doing business with retailers, it is incumbent upon us to support adoption.

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