Top consumer-goods retailers, such as Walmart, Target, Kroger and Walgreens, have been building state-of-the-art media businesses powered by unique access to consumers’ purchase data. These investments have primarily focused on digital media, such as online display, targeted email and mobile apps.
Pursuing digital engagement in brick-and-mortar stores has thus far fallen outside of the scope of in-house media teams. The recent launch of Walmart Connect indicates that’s about to change. The announcement identified in-store digital advertising as a core focus for Walmart’s in-house media arm.
The physical store has a unique role in the consumer shopping journey. It has always been the most important point at “the bottom of the marketing funnel” — the place where shoppers make the ultimate product and brand decision to convert from intent to purchase. But physical stores, which attract hundreds of millions of shoppers each week, are increasingly recognized as an attractive “top of the funnel” media channel, where advertisers can efficiently reach massive, incremental audiences.
Given the broad spectrum of marketing objectives advertisers can achieve inside the store, the impending digital in-store renaissance will give rise to two distinct engagement models: a media model and a merchandising model.
Media: In-Store as an Extension of DOOH
Digital screens are proliferating at physical stores. Even slow-to-digitize supermarkets now feature screens in the parking lot, at the entrance, at checkout, on cooler doors and outdoor benches.
Viewing retail stores as another mass medium is not new. When Walmart TV launched more than two decades ago, it was touted as the “5th largest TV network.” The media landscape has changed considerably since then and now the new Walmart Connect website touts an audience of “150 million weekly visitors” to stores and digital properties.
Specialized players, such as Grocery TV, Adcorp and Impax Media (recently acquired by Velocity) have attempted to create large digital networks across numerous grocery chains. But thus far, these networks have failed to challenge the dominance of traditional mass media or the digital platforms where most advertiser budgets still flow.
The key to in-store media succeeding at scale is to embrace the digital out-of-home (DOOH) model, and to integrate in-store screens into the larger DOOH ecosystem. DOOH has been one of the fastest-growing digital media channels, driven by consumer behaviors and technology innovation.
With consumers’ attention increasingly fragmented across multiple screens and apps, TV and online no longer offer the coverage advertisers need to reach their target audiences at scale. So interconnected DOOH screens, surrounding consumers wherever they go, offer valuable incremental reach and impressions. DOOH has also benefited from the rise of mobile devices and connected sensors that allow advertisers to better measure audience reach and engagement, and thus allocate more of their media budgets to DOOH.
With the right investments in infrastructure, connectivity and measurement, in-store DOOH could become a massive network of digital touchpoints, fully integrated into the high-volume, high-velocity ecosystem all major DSPs and media buyers rely on. It could unlock a vast new supply of addressable, measurable media audiences on par with TV networks and leading digital platforms.
Merchandising: In-Store Digital Engagement on Par With E-Commerce
Beyond deploying in-store screens as digital billboards that reach millions of grocery shoppers daily, the exciting new opportunity retailers have is to utilize digital technologies to enhance their customers’ shopping experience — help them find what they need and connect with the merchandised brands.
After all, the main purpose of the physical store, the reason consumers still travel to the grocery store, is the shopping experience that is so hard to replicate online. We go to physical stores to see and touch the real merchandise, try new products, and get ideas and inspiration from the energy and atmosphere of beautifully merchandised, well-run stores. To conjure the magic of retail, merchandisers turn to visual displays, product features, in-store events, sampling and promotions. “It’s good old-fashioned retail,” as one senior executive at a leading regional supermarket chain put it.
Digital tools — including in-store screens, sensors and interactive devices — can unlock previously unimaginable possibilities — both to create amazing customer experiences and to run the stores more smoothly, efficiently and sustainably.
These digitally enabled in-store solutions are less focused on the opportunity for mere eyeball impressions and are engineered entirely with the customer experience and the merchandiser’s job in mind. They are designed for specific categories and touchpoints throughout the store, aiming to unlock incremental value for shoppers, product manufacturers and category managers.
A prime example of digitally enhanced in-store merchandising solutions is the suite of connected multimedia displays delivered by Barrows, a 30-year veteran of visual design for retail. The Barrows “Connected Store” merchandising displays, which include endcaps, freestanding units and in-aisle hotspots, are engineered for scale and efficiency, but also custom-designed and built to deliver superior visuals and delightful shopping experiences.
The digitally enabled units are built with standard shelving and hardware skeleton, which can be re-sleeved with custom graphics and fixtures. Equipped with digital screens and proximity sensors, they offer dynamic, relevant content for shoppers, rich campaign analytics for brands, and real-time restocking, content management modification, and sales tracking capabilities for retailers.
Another example of a digital in-store solution engineered for a specific category is the digitized freezer doors manufactured by Cooler Screens. Its innovative solution converts normally unexciting frozen and chilled aisles into a bright wall of digital displays that not only enhance the product presentation, but also offer e-commerce-like features, including dynamic pricing, consumer ratings and engaging videos.
Retailers who focus on delivering the best customer experience can deploy an array of digitally enabled in-store display, merchandising and shopper utility touchpoints that are custom-designed for their stores. By doing so, they also create engaging experiences that not only delight their customers but also drive measurable sales lift and category growth.
Rather than trying to comingle the media and the merchandising digital engagement models, retailers should activate them separately — one focused on reaching large audiences and delivering incremental impressions, and one aimed at making in-store shopping as pleasant, easy and fulfilling as possible.