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GUEST COMMENT Retailers’ enthusiasm for digital signage and wi-fi requires network investment

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Video walls and eye-grabbing content are increasingly a feature of larger stores in shopping malls and metropolitan high streets.

Digital signage is increasingly widespread across the retail landscape and becoming even more captivating, thanks to advances in signage technology such as higher resolution LCD and UHD screens.

The technology is not just a means of grabbing the attention of shoppers and of making the retail space exhilarating and dynamic, it is also a primary method of providing product information or of showcasing promotions.

Research among 1,000 UK consumers shows that shoppers increasingly value the technology. Of the 70 per cent who have experienced it, a substantial majority (61% thought it had provided a good experience. This is no doubt why 84% of all retail customers responding in the research believe it will be more widely adopted in stores.

Unfortunately, there is a mismatch between these expectations and the plans of 100 retailers with a minimum of 250 employees, who were also surveyed. Whereas two-thirds of shoppers (66%) expect to see digital signage in wider use within the next 12 months, a mere 16 per cent of retailers plan to invest in the short-term, the research found.

It means retail organisations should think again about investing to attract shoppers into their stores. Accelerating investment in digital signage is very likely to lead to increased footfall and dwell-time.

Wi-Fi is playing a larger role but also depends on a resilient, optimised network

Wi-Fi is another in-store technology that has huge potential. The research shows that 63% of customers expect to see wi-fi in stores within the next 12 months.

To judge from the findings, retail organisations are increasingly aware of Wi-Fi’s benefits as well, knowing they can use the technology to learn more about how their floor-space is used and the demographics and buying habits of customers.

Almost all retailers (97%) said that free Wi-Fi would give them data they could use to improve the customer experience. More than 90% said it would inform their technology strategies and enable them to deliver more personalised offers and more effective loyalty programmes.

Wi-Fi certainly has this potential when allied to investment in the network infrastructure to optimise its functioning. If, for example, retailers succeed in persuading customers to log on using social media they gain highly valuable data about demographics and purchasing patterns. This profile data can be employed to shape more personalised and precisely targeted push-offers and achieve far better outcomes from smarter marketing campaigns.

And through technology that tracks smartphones from Wi-Fi access points, retailers can send shoppers’ phones big data graphics illustrating products or eye-catching offers relevant to the area of the store where they are. 

This is where the online and in-store experiences can be joined so that customers have access to the same level of detail about pricing and specifications that they can obtain when shopping online. Wi-Fi has shown itself to be a user-friendly method of achieving this.

Although retailers are enthusiastic about Wi-Fi for getting closer to their customers, they need to be mindful of two factors. Firstly, 35% of customers who have used in-store Wi-Fi found it to be a poor experience and secondly, security concerns about personal data need to be addressed. Even among the 84% of millennials who are happy to share data, more than three-quarters (77%) are also fearful that retailers may abuse their data.

Retailers recognise the need for effective networks

Reassuringly, the research among retailers shows there is recognition that network performance may not be at a level that supports what can be very bandwidth-hungry, cloud-based applications.
Digital signage content is now delivered from the cloud, while the data from Wi-Fi is also transmitted for analysis over the internet. Some 60 per cent of retailers said they recognise they need to improve their network’s performance within the next year, while 65 per cent understand the need to address network availability, bandwidth capacity and application management.

Managed services will supply the most efficient solution

Ensuring that a network is fit-for-purpose and fully optimised is essential if applications are not to slow down or fail completely. Yet it requires expertise and experience to ensure that the right connectivity is installed and that what may be multiple suppliers deliver what is promised.

Retailers setting out to improve their networks should consider the advantages of managed services, which will implement the right connectivity, optimise it through advanced solutions and ensure it is properly managed.

It is reassuring that retailers recognise the significant benefits of digital signage and Wi-Fi and that they understand that their networks will in many cases require upgrading. But it is essential they move quickly and consider a managed services approach to ensure they have the best network possible.

Author: Vanessa Armstrong, head of marketing, Hughes Europe

Image credit: Fotolia

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