Retail is a tough industry – consumer tastes are fickle, margins are often razor-thin, and employee turnover can be high, making it difficult to improve staff expertise and efficiency. Fortunately, intelligent retail system can address all of these problems, helping retailers grow and prosper even in today’s middling economy. In this blog, we will look at three particularly hot technologies: digital signage with viewer analytics, retail systems that combine entry-level prices with advanced features, and design features that can cut operational costs.
Let’s start with a look at digital signage. Retailers and advertisers alike have already embraced digital signage for its ability to attract attention – and drive sales – with splashy visuals. Digital signs also offer cost advantages because they can be updated remotely, without any manual labor. In some ways, however, digital signs have been as “dumb” as their analog predecessors. Specifically, advertisers have been unable to gauge viewership or respond to changing audience interests.
Today that is changing thanks to the advent of anonymous video analytics (AVA). As illustrated in Figure 1, this technology adds a camera to the sign, enabling the sign to determine key demographic information such as gender and age bracket. The beauty of this technology is that it allows the sign to display custom ads target to the demographics of the viewers. For example, a young man might see an ad for the latest sportswear, while an adult woman might see an ad for a family vacation. What’s more, the sign can track the number of viewers and length of each view, enabling advertisers to see which ads are succeeding and tweak their campaigns for greater impact.
Figure 1. Anonymous video analytics (AVA).
Figure 2 shows the operation of one recent AVA solution, the Intel® Audience Impression Metric Suite (Intel® AIM Suite).Software installed at the retail location analyzes the audience and uploads viewer metric data to a remote server. That server hosts Intel® AIM Analytics, a reporting system that lets users view the data and generate reports from a web-based interface. Intel AIM Suite also provides an API that enables audience metrics to be included in the digital signage software’s proof-of-play report.
Figure 2. Intel® AIM Suite.
Building one of these advanced signs is easier than you might think. Numerous signage solutions are available from the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance, whose 200-plus members collaborate closely with Intel to create optimized hardware, software, tools, and services to help you design smart, connected systems. I recommend starting with the just-published article from Emerson Network Power, which gives a detailed review of both the hardware and software needed for AVA – including a look at the features in the forthcoming 3rd generation Intel Core processor. For more example solutions, check out part 1 and part 2 of the signage series written my colleague Warren Webb.
While AVA pushes the frontiers of what signage can do, other innovations are bringing advanced features to lower cost points. One notable innovation is the introduction of the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS), a standardized form factor for signage players (Figure 3). This standardization simplifies design, installation, and maintenance, and makes it considerably easier to change player or display vendors. All of this adds up to lower up-front and lifetime costs. Alliance members like Axiomtek already offer OPS solutions, and more are coming soon.
Figure 3. Intel OPS standardized the player module form factor.
The new Intel® Atom™ processor N2000 and D2000 series also offers opportunities to cut costs – not only for signage, but for an array of retail systems such as kiosks and point of sale (POS) terminals. This 32 nm processor integrates high-performance graphics into an entry-level platform, enabling cost-effective retail solutions. I just wrote a magazine article and follow-up blog post with all the details, but one point I’ll note here is that these devices can be a big help in supplementing inexperienced staff. A graphics-rich, interactive retail system can help customers quickly understand the products for sale, locate desired items, obtain coupons, and check out – all with minimal staff intrusion. This takes a lot of pressure off of the staff and helps them operate more efficiently.
Finally, let’s take a moment to consider operating costs. As illustrated in Figure 4, total cost of ownership is dependent on many factors. (I pulled this chart from an excellent Fujitsu white paper on the subject.) One factor that is often overlooked is manageability. Retail systems may need service for a variety of reasons: software updates, virus removal, crash recovery, etc. Intel® vPro™ technology enables service technicians to perform these tasks remotely, reducing the need for expensive on-site visits and cutting sales-killing downtime.
Figure 4. Total cost of ownership.
Intel vPro is available in select Intel® Core™ processors. For a general intro to the technology, check out my recent overview. To see how you can apply it in a retail setting, you I recommend the IEI article Manage and Secure Remote Systems as well as the blog Managing remote embedded devices.
The links I’ve listed here only scratch the surface of what the Alliance has to offer. To learn more, see intel.com/go/embeddedalliance
Emerson Network Power is a Premier member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. Axiomtek and IEI are Associate members and Fujitsu is a General member of the Alliance.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance
Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine
Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston