The action’s at retail

When the likes of P&G global marketing officer Jim Stengel calls the in-store experience 'the first moment of truth' - i.e. when the consumer actually makes a choice - it's no shock that other marketers would flock to leverage in-store media too.

When the likes of P&G global marketing officer Jim Stengel calls the in-store experience ‘the first moment of truth’ – i.e. when the consumer actually makes a choice – it’s no shock that other marketers would flock to leverage in-store media too.

What was once referred to as P-O-P or P-O-S and considered simply collateral campaign support is now a hot commodity. The new term ‘at-retail media’ covers everything from shelf-talkers, to smart shopping carts, to store windows converted into giant touch screens.

Many of these new technologies allow advertisers to target consumers with well-positioned signage and, thanks to Web-based distribution, offer the flexibility of national, local, or location-specific buys, as well as the ability to quickly and easily customize messages. But do they work? A couple Canadian-based providers are testing

in-store campaigns to prove it.

Certainly, marketer interest in the medium is on the rise. Doug Hope, director of Retail Tradeshows for Atlanta-based VNU Expositions, says at Global Shop – VNU’s gigantic annual March in-store media, marketing and design tradeshow – no ad folk attended three years ago. This spring, there were 780.

He says: ‘When Kellogg or P&G [decide] to spend significantly in the channel, and you see new job titles [such as director of retail creative services] in CPG, that marks a very significant change.’

Besides, Washington, D.C.-based POPAI (Point-Of-Purchase Advertising International) asserts that 74% of all purchase decisions at mass merchandisers are made in-store. In fact in-store is the third-largest ad channel in the U.S. following network TV and newspaper, at about US$19 billion in annual revenue.

But the key to the medium’s success lies in understanding shoppers. David Hunter, president of BrandTrust, a Toronto-based consumer research and strategic brand management company, set out to determine how digital retail screens should be used.

‘We have years of experience in knowing how long a commercial should be, but that’s not true in other spaces. There are some spaces at retail where you might stay for three seconds and others might stand for 10 minutes. So you really need to know a lot more about consumer behaviour to make it work.’

Hence, before launching a second company called EyeQ Digital to create content for

in-store digital networks, including a network of 42-inch screens in all Rogers stores, he set out to find out more about the shopper mind-set.

He realized placement of the screens – like any media – will have a huge impact on effectiveness. Enter RMS Research (Retail Marketing In-Store Services,) an international company based in London, U.K., which studies in-store behaviour and has developed both qualitative and quantitative tools to measure effectiveness.

BrandTrust recently made an arrangement to represent RMS in Canada and is particularly keen on two of its research technologies – the I.C. Scan and MultiTrack Video Observation.

With I.C. Scan, shoppers are outfitted with a pair of glasses with tiny cameras mounted between the lenses, and a cellphone-sized transmitter. This allows researchers to film what the shoppers actually see. MultiTrack involves multiple cameras mounted around a store to track traffic patterns, determine what aisles or departments are drawing shoppers, and how long they stay.

The main goal of a recent RMS study for ASDA stores, a U.K. chain that is part of the Wal-Mart Group, was to find the best placement for in-store screens and the best formats for messaging. Some of the findings were contrary to what marketers have traditionally believed about in-store behaviour.

In addition to shopper interviews and focus groups, shoppers were recruited in-store and equipped with I.C. Scan glasses. The first test was conducted with 42-inch screens placed in the individual aisles while the second test had the screens down ‘action alley,’ the power aisle down the centre of the store.

Guy Vaughan, director of RMS Research in London, says: ‘We discovered in phase one that we had made the visual very complicated. The feedback from shoppers during the first few weeks was that they were very confused. They thought [the retailer] was trying to sell TV screens to them.

‘What came back was: ‘Make it easy for me to find the deal that is new and exciting.”

Digital signage in individual aisles was much more effective because the signage was closer to the product advertised, and, surprisingly, RMS found that the centre aisle is not as well travelled by shoppers as previously thought.

The study also determined the best shelves were eye-level to about 35-degrees below. Anything above eye level is not effective, and shoppers do see and buy from the bottom shelf, as long as it is well stocked.

Future Shop is also testing the potential of its in-store network. Arash Mazloum, account executive for FS TV at Future Shop parent Best Buy Canada, which is based in Burnaby, B.C., says the network was relaunched this summer so that content includes movie trailers, sports, and seven minutes of advertising each half hour, for the likes of Telus, Logitech and AOL.

With approximately five million customers every month, the traffic count as well as the demographic of the Future Shop customer (males 15-54) is very attractive to marketers.

Future Shop recently tested the medium with a simple 15-second ad created for the Braveheart DVD, which ran twice per hour from late August to early September. There were no other promos, price changes, or special placement, and it wasn’t advertised elsewhere.

‘Between the first and second weeks combined, there was a 20% sales lift on the DVD,’ says Mazloum. ‘If we played the movie trailer or increased the frequency we probably would have seen more sales lifts. That’s something we’re going to experiment with in the coming months.’

(The rate for a four-week network buy for Future Shop vendors is $10,000, while non-vendors are charged $12,000.)

Such results point to a promising future for the at-retail medium. ‘Shoppers are increasingly making their [purchase] decisions in-store,’ says VNU’s Hope. ‘That’s why there’s much more interest in in-store media and why so much more technology is being pushed that way. It’s awfully hard to bypass the channel where 95% of sales take place.’