The Evolution Of Interactive Retail Displays: How To Advance Your Brand’s Store Presence

04.10.2020 Blog , COVID19 , Expert Insights
By Jennifer Fisher-Finnegan, VP of Client Service, Break Fix

By nature, human beings are visual creatures. According to Thermopylae Sciences + Technology, the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and 65% of us are visual learners. If you need modern proof, just think about the content that goes viral online – most of the time, it’s a funny photo or video versus an interesting article or blog.

Retail experts agree that in merchandising, the way a package looks helps sell the product inside. And it makes sense! The first encounter a consumer has with a product is an entirely visual experience – they see the product’s packaging and assess the way it’s presented on the store shelf. According to Inc.com, a “product’s packaging is meant to communicate a purpose: what your brand stands for and what it means for your customer.”

Just like a product’s packaging, the way it’s displayed in retail environments is an equally important factor. For any given product, there are probably dozens of competing alternatives displayed on surrounding shelves. To stand out, brands need to develop eye-catching, exciting displays that communicate core messaging and leave a long-lasting, positive brand impression. In turn, awesome product displays also improve the retailer’s bottom line by providing a more immersive, enjoyable shopping experience that builds consumer loyalty.

Retail displays have always been an essential part of visual merchandising, but they have evolved over the years to align with changing consumer expectations, technology advancements, and societal shifts. In this article, I’ll explore how retail displays have changed through the ages, examine the impact of COVID-19 on the retail display industry, and explain what retail displays may look like in the decades to come.

Back To The Beginning – The Origin Of Retail Displays

Retail displays have been used since the late 1800’s, when plate glass first became widely available. According to BigCommerce.com, plate glass allowed shop owners to build large windows spanning the full lengths of their shops for the display of merchandise. Thus, “window-shopping” was born! Retailers in big cities like Chicago and New York would compete over who could create the most colorful, exciting displays, with the ultimate winner claiming more customers.

In today’s world, retail displays aren’t just about enticing shoppers to come in-store. Instead, they’re about drawing attention, displaying information, and setting products apart from the competition – especially in major stores like Target, Walmart, and Best Buy that have thousands of brands and products for consumers to choose from. Not only have retail displays evolved to become more sophisticated across the board, but they have also become more interactive, allowing customers to see, touch, and hear a product in action before they purchase it. By developing interactive displays, brands allow consumers to have an immersive, multisensory shopping experience.

Why Interactive Displays Are Important In Retail Environments

In 2020, Pew Research Center estimates that 81% of Americans own a smartphone. No longer do we rely solely on salespeople for information; instead, it’s readily available with a quick Google search. According to The Trade Group, “interactive displays are a welcome addition, but it’s not enough to just throw some iPads on the counter. Shoppers want these interactive displays to transform the previously passive act of shopping into an engaging event.” By transforming shopping into an “event” through the use of interactive displays, even traditional retailers can benefit from the experience economy, in which young consumers would rather spend money on experiences than on material things.

A company that excels in interactive displays is Sephora. According to Retail Dive, “Sephora’s newest retail concept is a brick-and-mortar connected boutique that creates a disruptive shopping experience via interactive in-store tablets, phone-charging stations, and a selfie mirror.” Sephora’s interactive displays do an excellent job of bridging URL with IRL, and they give consumers a valid reason to shop in person. To further enrich the experience, Sephora has also developed a social media platform where brand fans can share product recommendations and offer advice to fellow makeup lovers. By giving consumers access to what they crave all in one place, Sephora can connect with consumers on their own turf.

Not only do interactive displays enrich the shopping experience, but they also make brands more versatile. Since interactive displays are technology-driven, they can be remotely updated to adjust messaging per changing campaign direction. However, the logistics that go into maintaining interactive displays can be difficult to organize, especially for a brand that has multiple products on display in thousands of retail locations nationwide. From in-store audits to in-depth compliance checks, parts order fulfillment and field rep operations, the work that’s required to maintain modern retail displays takes a well-organized, efficient team with a plethora of industry knowledge and on-the-job experience.

How To Maintain Interactive Displays In A Modern World

Many brands mistakenly believe that retail associates will maintain their interactive displays for them – running tech updates and making sure the displays are clean, neat, and properly connected. However, it’s not a retail associate’s job to maintain interactive displays. Instead, they are focused on assisting in-store shoppers. That’s why many brands choose to partner with a third-party retail company that can act as their eyes and ears on the ground, making sure all their products are properly presented in retail environments.

No longer is display maintenance just a matter of checking off a simple yes/no audit list. Instead, in-store visits have evolved to include technology troubleshooting if any component of an interactive display is found to be non-functional. A product’s display provides the first impression of a brand. If the display is broken or not functioning as it should, what type of message does that convey? If a display tech sees that something is off, they should have the training and experience to immediately identify the root problem and fix any issues to get the interactive display back up and running, ready for business, and minimizing the down time of a non-functional display.

Not only is speed to fix an extremely important factor in display maintenance, but so are reporting capabilities. After all, a partner brand or company needs to know exactly how their product displays are performing on store shelves at all times. That level of real-time feedback allows them to make quick adjustments and pivot with changing wants and needs. It’s also important to remember that every strategy needs a Plan B in case of emergency. During the recent COVID-19 crisis, many retailers and brands have been struggling to stay ahead of their retail displays, and they’re feeling the financial repercussions in an unfortunate way.

How Interactive Retail Displays Will Change After COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the retail world in more ways than one. According to Retail Dive, “while consumers’ appetite for discretionary shopping has decreased substantially, mass merchants and grocery stores grapple with new demands.” Many retailers like Macy’s and Apple have made the decision to temporarily close their store locations in order to stem the spread of COVID-19. However, other grocery, pharmacy and household grocery chains like Walmart, Target, and Costco have struggled to keep up with the influx in demand. Through it all, non-essential workers have been asked to stay at home – and that includes third-party retail company reps who help maintain interactive displays.

This policy change will have a significant impact on all retail displays that are currently on store floors, but it will also force brands and display manufacturers to think differently about the future durability of their designs, and how they are able to disseminate information in a way that’s not dependent on traditional person-to-person communication. Interactive retail displays moving forward will need to operate as a “silent salesperson,” especially when retail associates aren’t available to communicate core messages with consumers, and third-party retail reps are barred from performing regular maintenance checks.

Future retail displays will need to become more resilient so they can perform flawlessly between service visits, and they will also need to be created in a way that makes them easy to sanitize to protect the health and safety of shoppers and retail workers. Lastly, they will need to be remotely accessible so third-party retail partners can update messaging and assess performance from afar. COVID-19 has impacted industries across the board, and retail is just one small drop in the bucket. However, for brands that rely on interactive retail displays to help sell products, the effects are especially severe.

How BDSmktg Can Help In The New Age Of Retail Display Maintenance

For 35+ years, BDS has supported the entire lifecycle of retail displays for all kinds of brands, organizations, and retail partners. We have watched the retail industry evolve and have personally felt the enormous impact it’s experienced during COVID-19. However, through our decades of industry experience, we have become a versatile, agile team that can adapt and overcome challenges head-on. And while we acknowledge that COVID-19 has altered retail as we know it, we’ll be right by your side when life returns to normal.

With our industry-leading Break/Fix team, we can quickly conduct site surveys, install and maintain retail displays, troubleshoot interactive technology issues, elevate and evolve the reporting process, perform regular display updates, and supply real-time information to our clients so they can make actionable decisions. We’ve come a long way from sending reps disposable cameras to take pictures of in-store displays, or simply relying on Excel and PDF reporting tools. Now all our retail reporting happens in the digital space, with image links and custom dashboards that our partner brands can use to remove the guesswork from their brand’s store presence.

With so much unknown happening in today’s society, it feels good to have a third-party retail partner you can depend on. If you’re looking for a company that can help you navigate the complicated landscape and plan for future challenges, BDS can help. With our video and photo display sharing, mobile app for on-the-go field reporting, expertly trained team of agile field reps, and supply chain and parts orders support, you can have everything you need to maintain and enhance your company’s retail displays from afar. If you’re ready to get started, contact us at [email protected] or 800.234.4237.