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    Oct. 3, 2014 | by Lyle Bunn

    The answer to confusion is always "no." As product selection at the retail shelf is, by definition, a source of confusion for consumers, brands have a significant opportunity for point-of-purchase conversion through shelf-level or service counter promotion.

    When connecting the dots that represent the information and touchpoints on the ever-changing path to purchase, they ultimately converge at the shelf level. Even online ordering, the ever-increasing torture of physical space retailing with its "showrooming," is supported by shelf-level media. The culture of shopping is moving forward as consumers seek information, inspiration, ever-changing stories that put the product in the context of their needs, wants, life and events.  

    In a session titled "The Future of Engagement" at the recent symposium hosted by the Digital Screenmedia Association, Jim Crawford, CEO of Chute Gerdeman and Ethan Whitehill, CEO of Two West provided insights about the retail experience. "Every store has a story," Whitehill said. "How do you tell that story with technology? How do we enhance that story for the shopper?"

    "Retail is mostly through brick-and-mortar stores, in large part because the in-store experience still provides utility, a sense of community and meaning." the panelists agreed. "Shopping happens because of the task, and the treat," Whitehill said. "Brick and mortar delivers that better than any other experience."

    The two paramount marketing media questions that serve as the basis for action by the brand are a) Will consumers see the promotional message? And b) Will the message activate their action?

    A resounding "yes" is the response to shelf-level digital media. Dynamic media at the retail shelf reduces the "friction" at this most important of all points on the sometimes eclectic, always evolving path to purchase. Messaging that amplifies the brand identity and its promise at the point where the consumer's hand moves products from a shelf to their cart or places an order at a service counter deliver the prize that brands seek, including selection for trial or next use.

    Many marketers continue to operate as if the world revolves around their brand with pre-Galileo steadfast, blinded vision.

    Forward-thinking marketers, and consumers, believe that the consumer is at the center of the universe with buying power being a gravitational force that influences all brand and supply chain behavior. Emboldened by social media, consumers are happy to make brands feel the laurels or darts of their behavior.

    Brand perception on the part of a consumer plays out at the store shelf. Appeal, disdain or indifference motivate product selection, as the marriage of convenience between brand and retailer works to device and execute sufficiently capable branding and promotional communications.

    The arsenal of point-of-purchase instruments is fairly limited, typically including package design, shelf positioning, attractive pricing or some nearby static signs that aim to earn attention.

    The retail shelf has been coined as the "First Moment of Truth" by Dina Howell, which proposed that all elements of marketing and promotion should be defined from shelf-level interaction and then including merchandising, promotion, advertising and branding campaigns.

    In a Sept. 21, 2005, article on page 1 of The Wall Street Journal titled "In a Shift, Marketers Beef Up Spending Inside Stores," Procter & Gamble Co. reflected its belief that "shoppers make up their mind about a product selection in about the time it takes to read this [sentence]." Dina Howell, as Director, First Moment of Truth (FMOT, pronounced EFF-mot), at Procter & Gamble, said, "P&G wants to connect with consumers when and where they are most receptive to information about P&G brands. We want to delight the consumer as well as simplify the shopping experience ... Working with retailers is pivotal to P&G success. The store must be an extension of the brand, and we must work in collaboration with retailers at that critical first moment of truth when a consumer makes the purchase decision."

    FMOT defines the point of product selection as the starting point for consumer goods marketing. In short, by appealing to consumer's senses, values and emotions at the specific point of purchase, marketers can convert browsers to buyers and give their product the best chance of selection.

    This "first moment of truth" as coined by P&G acknowledges the decline in effectiveness of broadcast ad spending, the growing importance of retail media in the marketing mix, improved measurement capability and most importantly, the effectiveness of point-of-purchase and out-of-home ad display.

    By inverting this marketing communications funnel, P&G has turned the questions to focus on achieving highest return on objectives. They ask, "In starting at the point of selection, how should we invest to achieve planned sales volumes and margins?" The basis of the planning and decision framework shifts to the achievement of effectiveness of "customer engagement" and relationship.

    Retail marketing in this century harkens to the important shift in 1654, when Galileo very successfully, and against established powers, argued that the sun was the center of the solar system, with planets and moons revolving around it, rather than Earth being at the center.

    In marketing, the brand has been central, but successful marketers accept that it is the consumer that is at the center, with brand options and the communications of each revolving around that buying power.

    "The importance to growth of any brand is driven primarily by in-store visibility, consumer shop-ability and information that drives purchase decision," said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, president, Shikatani Lacroix. 

    Russell Young, SVP, interactive and mobile experiences, at retail and dynamic media provider Stratacache said, "Whether you call it the Point of Influence, or the Final Moment of Truth, there is no denying the importance of creating inspiration at the retail shelf level. Savvy brands and retailers realize this important point in the customer journey and continue to seek out innovative methods for driving conversion during these precious few seconds. The key to success in optimizing this shelf-level engagement is to convey value in a subtle manner that feels natural in that specific environment."

    "Creating digital at-purchase moments is the one of most effective ways to influence purchase decision in-store," said Marcos Terenzio, director, digital experience, Shikatani Lacroix.

    Andy McRae, general manager of Dot2Dot Communications Inc., which provides the popular Scala content management platform and its additional capacities for third-party advertising management, is a strong proponent for digital at- and near-shelf media.

    McRae said, "We have long felt that shelf-level media is possibly the most important step in the path to purchase. Being able to influence the purchase decision at the shelf allows retailers to maximize value. Using a combination of omnichannel capability, real-time networked appliances and displays, and advanced analytics capable of changing content to fit the situation gives retailer ultimate control over the shopper's experience."


    "Devices such as electronic shelf labels, or ESLs, provide retailers with an easy way to change messaging, including pricing, based on any number of data inputs. Understanding the influences on a purchase decision is only half the equation. Having a system that allows changes to be made based on those influences, especially if it is automatic, completes the process," he said. "Dynamic pricing has long been the ultimate goal for most industries, but retail in particular ... The advent of inexpensive, low power electronic shelf labels, combined with the robust content management system and advanced purchase analytics ... have finally brought this from a manual process based on guesses to a highly automated process guided by facts."

    More and more these days retailers want intelligent, data-driven communications networks for their in-store environments, McRae said. "These systems must offer purchase analytics, real-time content update capability, integration with point-of-sale systems, and comprehensive result measurement. The displays themselves now range from large spectacular outdoor and outside-store viewable video walls designed to attract people into the store, to the very small electronic shelf label aimed at influencing the actual purchase decision."

    McRae speculated that "It is estimated that in the next five years, as much as 50 percent of purchases will be made online, or through mobile and social commerce, so it is critical that any shelf-level media have a mobile tie-in as a way of extending the shopping experience across multiple channels."

    Retail banks also are buying into the technology. The Laurentien Bank has installed small screens horizontally under glass at the teller station. "This allows the client being served and signing paper such as deposits in front of the teller to see the digital screen messages with bank-related content," said Benoit Johnson, CEO of Montreal-based provider Viftele, which provides digital signage for the bank. "This screen allows the bank to have less small static signs at this specific space and the customers are presented with a hard to avoid message."

    "Empowering the consumer to have control and access to product information easily and conveniently is the key to their decision regarding what they buy. The value of shelf-level digital media is that it is convenient and dynamic, and is a useful alternative to the mobile device though it can also be used in conjunction with mobile to increase the brand reach" said Suzana Spratley, CEO of the digital engagement agency TechTAP.

    Spratley said, "It is all about the connected consumer having control over their choices in an easy and convenient way. By placing the choice for the consumer in a digital medium at shelf height, the brand will offer more than one key decision point; for example price as well as product features, benefits, ingredients, alternate uses, etc. Better choices bond consumers to brands and build advocates." She emphasized, "Brands must engage, inform and enhance the experience in a convenient and useful way."

    Displays are being used that maximize shelf space and do not displace any product frontage while being installed and operated, including shelf dynamic display devices such as those provided by Regency Digital. Company Vice President Abraham d'Ancona said, "The merchant is offered the opportunity to connect with the consumer. It reinforces the brand while maximizing shelf space and point-of-purchase consumer messaging that adds a sense of excitement, immediacy and urgency. In doing so, it engages the patron to fulfill their needs and wants while also motivating product trial or an impulse buy. It is all about shopper conversion and product selection."

    The shelf video strip from Regency Digital includes multiple 2-inch-by-4-inch video panels in a 1-inch-deep housing that attached to any retail shelf horizontally or vertically. Individual screens are able to play independently or in conjunction with each other and can be subdivided allowing for full color, high-resolution video, animation, stills, QR codes or other engagement media. 

    European retailers have already embraced shelf level dynamic media for more than two years, enabled by retail support agencies with retailer and brand relationships as well as experience with in-store merchandising/advertising or POP. "The most successful applications have been where the shelf level video strip is the at-shelf element of a campaign that involved other promotional media,"d'Ancona said. "Products that have done especially well using shelf-level video include new and aspirational products as well as market-leading brands in consumables ... in particular when used in larger retail chains. Marketers who care about success in the retail store now have the tool that they need to generate more stock turns and gain market share over competitors at the retail shelf."

    According to Mike White, CEO of Multi-media Solutions, which has provided digital signage for award-winning retail applications such as the duty free shops at the Shoppes at Ocean Drive at Miami International Airport, >"Getting the buyer's attention has never been tougher, with so much messaging that it can just be noise to the buyer. That is why the video bar is so effective, its unique eye-catching format at the point of decision engages the customer literally at his/her point of decision and delivers the motivation to buy."

    Jose Avalos, director of digital signage for Intel Corp. in the Embedded & Communications Group concludes, "Digital Signage as an ingredient can be transformational to numerous product categories like interactive whiteboards for education, digital jukeboxes for hospitality and transparent displays for supermarkets, among others. In the Retail sector it is understood that 68 percent of all purchases are unplanned and that 70 percent of brand choices are made at the shelf. The advent of intelligent shelving with integrated advertising and information content can fulfill a much more active role where it understands shopper needs, understands the product or products it is showcasing, and uses enhanced capabilities to participate more fully in the selling process. And it can do this in a way that is highly personalized, including the use of personalized pricing and promotions." He added: "For manufacturers, an intelligent shelf can create data-led sales and marketing opportunities and help them better understand who is buying their products, and who is not. It can also maximize profit for the retailer by optimizing pricing dynamically, and enable manufacturers and retailers to reward shopper loyalty, all at the shelf edge."

    The consumer is at the center of the universe, and that most essential of marketing success points, the moment of truth, is the retail shelf. Brand campaigns, retailer policy and the supply of shelf level display must align. As they do, the shopper will deliver benefits to all.

    Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon) is an analyst, advisor and educator in North America's digital out-of-home industry. He has helped hundreds of organizations to take advantage of dynamic signage, has published almost 300 articles, whitepapers and guidebooks, and has helped to train over 10,000 media and supply professionals. He can be reached at Lyle@LyleBunn.com.

    All images courtesy of Regency Digital.