Not too long ago I wrote about exciting new developments in intelligent kiosks and what they could mean for brick-and-mortar stores trying to compete with online businesses. It turns out that was only half the story. The other half concerns all the advancements being made in intelligent digital signage and price-checking systems. These are rapidly joining the 15 billion intelligent, connected devices (the Embedded Internet) the IDC predicts to be online by the year 2015.
I recently spent some time talking with Michael Curran, CEO of Micro Industries about their work in the digital signage field. (Micro Industries is an Affiliate Member of the Intel® Embedded and Communications Alliance.) According to Curran, there is a "huge sales uplift potential for retailers who can capture lost opportunities and tap into the majority of shoppers who walk out of stores without buying anything." Micro Industries is helping retailers do that by creating intelligent digital signage systems that alert shoppers to intriguing products and specials and help them quickly find, review, compare alternatives, and make their purchase.
A number of developments make this an ideal time for retailers to migrate from traditional signage and point-of-purchase (POP) displays. One is the ever dropping cost of digital signage solutions. Another is the flexibility and speed in using a digital solution to craft and post advertising. Other compelling reasons to make the switch include the obvious cost-saving and waste-reduction advantages of digital signage versus paper and plastic solutions.
It doesn't take an economist to see that the falling prices for LCD screens and compute performance add up to affordable digital signage solutions for retail usages. Especially when you think about what they replace. The lead times, printing costs and setup logistics of a traditional POP campaign can take months and require a large cast to print, ship, and set up. Compare that to digital POP displays that enable promotions to be created and broadcast to stores as fast as they can be strategized and designed by just a handful of marketing and design people. Have a typo in that headline? Correct it in hundreds of locations in seconds. Need to change a sale price? Done.
With digital signage, the display becomes a store fixture that can be used again and again, instead of tossed at the end of a promotion. Instead of filling up landfills with outdated materials, you simply delete bits and bytes. That makes it a truly green solution.
Then there's the interactive dimension. It's hard to interact with a cardboard poster, but a touch-screen invites exploration. Retailers can reward customer curiosity with information about products, specials, stock information for a particular store, alternative and companion products, and much more. Forget static displays that offer you nothing beyond what's on them. Digital signage enables customers to get involved and shape their own experiences with the media. This kind of involvement is key to sales in the information age.
From talking with Curran, it's obvious Micro Industries is on the cutting edge of the intelligent digital signage industry. He specifically cited their Touch&Go Messenger* 65P, an all-in-one computer that includes a 65-inch high definition LCD touch screen. Powered by an Intel® Core™2 Duo mobile processor, the Messenger runs multiple applications simultaneously while delivering complex multimedia graphics effortlessly. Having a full-function PC inside a display device is a real advantage should the network go down — the displays will continue running. The Messenger can connect to wired or wireless networks, whatever works best with a particular store.
From a cost viewpoint, the Touch&Go Messenger and a number of other Micro Industries products also offer something else — a lower total cost of ownership. Many are available with Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT). This silicon-based management and security solution enables retailers to take the on/off responsibilities away from forgetful employees on the retail floor and shift it to the IT department. Staff can power the systems on and off remotely from the backroom or from a corporate office thousands of miles away. This can add up to significant energy savings when you think of hundreds of devices in hundreds of stores being powered down for up to 12 hours every night. Intel AMT can also save time and money by allowing many common IT tasks — such as updating software or diagnosing and fixing a system problem — to be handled remotely.
Another product category Micro Industries is a leader in right now is price checkers. Their Touch&Go Pricechecker* is a good example. This all-in-one computer features a 10.4" touch screen LCD designed for remote management and control throughout store chains. It uses a patented fanless (and very quiet) technology and energy-sipping Intel® Atom™ processor to enable the entire system to be powered over the network through Power over Ethernet Plus. This eliminates all the hassles and expense of bringing in an electrician to run power line and install an outlet for each unit. (For information about other Micro Industries products, look here.)
It's obvious that in the next few years, we're going to see brick-and-mortar retailers learn a lot of new tricks. Solutions being developed by companies like Micro Industries will give retailers the tools they need to improve the customer experience and make shopping in-store as fun as it is online.
Ready to see these solutions operating in a store near you? What's your opinion of the spread of intelligent connected devices on the retail floor?