Selling to the shopkeeper – how AV suppliers can break into the retail market

We want to bring you industry insights for the sectors that we work in and here is one from a guest and Bubble friend, Paul Bray, freelance journalist and regular contributor to AV Magazine.

Few industries have embraced AV technology as fervently as retail. From huge video walls in shopping malls and department stores to smart interactive kiosks and state-of-the-art virtual fitting rooms, AV has become an essential part of the eternal struggle to delight the customer and beat the competition.

Yet despite this wealth of opportunity, many AV integrators and vendors have yet to reap the rewards. According to AVIXA, the trade association for the professional AV and information communications industries, only about half of AV providers are currently active in retail. The reasons vary, but lack of knowledge among AV companies about the market and how to break into it plays a key role, leaving retailers to work with more traditional IT firms, general contractors or architects instead.

“A large portion of AV providers are not playing in the retail space, and with a thriving industry, they’re doing themselves a disservice,” says Sean Wargo, senior director of market intelligence at AVIXA. “This is leading retailers to rely on service providers that don’t necessarily have AV expertise to deliver experiential retail environments.”

What retailers want

If AV suppliers are to break into retail, they must first understand what retailers want. Top of the list are quality and reliability. A blank screen or non-functioning self-service kiosk can ruin a store’s carefully created ambience, create a bad impression on the customer, and actively inhibit the sales process. Kit often has to remain functional 24/7, and in a tough environment where accidental damage, deliberate vandalism and even the weather can be ever-present hazards.

As hard-nosed businesspeople operating in a low-margin trade that’s increasingly threatened by online sales, retailers also want plenty of bang for their buck, and often demand proof that they’re getting it (not something the AV industry has always been demonstrably good at providing). AV has to justify not only the cash outlay but also the square footage it occupies in-store, meaning that small footprint displays, ultra-short throw projectors etc. go down well.

Fortunately there’s a growing body of evidence that AV in retail really can pay its way. A digital signage trial last year at organic and natural food store Earth Fare led to a 10 per cent increase in eat-in food sales. And a behavioural study for in-store media specialist Mood Media and retailer Intersport found that tickling customers’ senses with music, scent and animated digital signage also boosted sales by 10 per cent.

Hand in hand with the desire for proof of RoI goes a thirst for more information about customers, both individually and en masse. Here again AV can deliver, with people counters, heat mapping and cameras that measure dwell time to provide demographic information, and one-to-one interactions via smartphone apps, beacon technology and AI-powered assisted browsing to build a profile of the individual customer (data protection laws permitting).

Simplicity of operation is another must-have. Shop floor staff are seldom experts in AV or IT, and have enough on their plates maintaining stock levels and serving customers without having to tinker with touch screens or swap video streams. So maintenance-free kit and centralised management of content and play-out are high on the retailer’s wish list. Equally, however, it may want store staff to be able to override the central system: there’s no point playing ads for a product that’s sold out, for example.

The AV supplier’s role

According to AVIXA, the two biggest challenges faced by retailers are technology selection and adherence to budget, and retailers rely on AV providers’ knowledge of the various options to help them determine how to efficiently and effectively create exceptional consumer experiences.

It follows that the earlier AV suppliers can get involved in retail projects, the better. Then they can not only advise on the best practical solution, but also manage the retailer’s aspirations relative to its budget (which don’t always match up). Key practical questions can also be addressed before it’s too late – or too expensive – to answer them, from the optimum hardware to the best place in store to locate it.

Despite its attractions, the retail market is not for the faint-hearted. Infrastructure can be a major headache, especially in older or listed buildings. This can range from simple things like having enough power sockets, to creating cable runs and finding safe mounting points for heavy large format displays or video walls. Don’t expect to piggy-back AV signals onto an existing store LAN or Wi-Fi either, as these may well not be up to the job.

Logistical challenges can be prodigious. A large retail chain may require a roll-out spanning dozens or even hundreds of stores, sometimes internationally. Larger stores may have several types and sizes of display or media player, all configured differently and dedicated to different tasks or types of content.

With little or no technical expertise in-house, the retail client will probably expect the AV supplier to handle all the complexities. And closing the store while installation takes place is unlikely to be feasible or economic, so the work may have to be carried out in the evenings or overnight.

Finally, AV suppliers must be able to cope with the fast pace of change in retail, not just in the technologies employed but also the requirements of their clients as they strive to keep one jump ahead of the competition – or, as this year, respond to an unprecedented global crisis such as the Covid pandemic.

But it’s worth the effort. AVIXA forecasts that global AV revenues from retail will grow from $19.7 billion in 2020 to $26.3 billion in 2025. A slice of that pie would be well worth having.

If you are interested in learning more about how to maximise your marketing strategy to target and engage with the retail audience, and how Bubble Agency can assist in transforming your business with our knowledge and network, please email: hello@bubbleagency.com

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