While 2004 was the year of the trial for electronic signage; many suppliers will be hoping that 2005 and 2006 will see these trials progress to rollout. However retailers need to ask themselves whether plasma screens can be justified as an end in themselves or should be regarded as step towards the greater benefits afforded by the broad deployment of electronic signage within retail.
I would note is that while it is often claimed that plasma screens create sales uplift, there are a number of critical features that these systems do not deliver.
The first limitation is a lack of acceptability to customers in store. While 42 inch plasma screens fixed along the power aisles or above the consumer electronics aisle provide background information on new products and special offers, they cannot really be used in the normal aisles for product promotion. There simply isnt room, where price per item is so much lower. Some retailers have tried smaller screens positioned above the shelves, but I would question if this is where customers are looking for special offers. True promotional electronic signage has to be on the shelf edge to gain maximum impact.
My second argument is that many of these systems are just delivering general advertising in to the store and that they are not linked into the other signage and promotional systems. They therefore cannot deliver true store-level promotions. It is only when all promotional media moving images as well as point of purchase material - is delivered as a single, integrated messages from a common system, that retailers will be able to obtain the true impact and a proven return on investment.
The third argument is that many of these systems don't deliver a significant cost saving to the retailer. Sales uplift alone will not get the purchase order signed, particularly if the sales uplift is modest. There have to be other benefits. It is critical that any solution delivers cost savings either by removing redundant processes, reducing data entry or saving other labour costs for them to be welcomed by retailers with open arms.
The next generation of electronic signage will deliver the immediacy and agility of plasma screens to the shelf edge. There are many companies working on the display technologies that will deliver these solutions. Soon it will not be the display technology that is the issue, it will be whether the signage solutions deployed are capable of using the new technologies and are able to integrate everything that supports the sale. Retailers that have invested wisely will be ready to gain the full benefits of electronic signage. Plasma has achieved a high profile because it is new, attractive and comes with big promises attached. However, only once it is managed within the whole strategy for promotion and signage will plasma deliver.
So plasma screens are only one step on the way to the true benefits of electronic signage. Signage solutions capable of delivering the same message using the most appropriate output media - be it traditional printed shelf edge labels, electronic labels, plasma screens or large format POS that are fully integrated into the other systems EPOS, planogram, stock management and promotions that represent the genuine end goal. It is these solutions that will truly deliver cost savings and sales uplift and will benefit a retailer in todays competitive market.
Nigel Rix is Commercial Director for Episys. The company is a global technology company providing complete, integrated solutions for retail Point of Sale media, Mobile and Signage to the retail, manufacturing, logistics, chemical, healthcare and the public service sector industries.