Posted By Guillaume Estegassy
Windows Embedded Business Group Lead for Japan
From attracting customers through digital signage to creating in-store dressing-room intelligent systems, technology is no doubt transforming the consumer experience. Today, Guillaume Estegassy brings you part one of our two-part blog series exploring these ‘smart’ shopping trends.
As a daily user of the remarkable Tokyo metro and train systems, alongside 40 million people (yes, that is daily), I started to notice something peculiar: empty conventional signage spaces.
Where you have an opportunity to reach tens of thousands of people a day in one given station, why isn’t every signage space occupied? Simply because they are evolving, from a past where static, “disconnected,” mono-directional communication tools are no longer relevant. Indeed, if I owned a business and wanted to increase my reach, what would compel me to rent this empty space? I’d want to know how many people look at it; whether they are men, women, adults, kids; how long they looked at it; and if they were happy, or making a face. I’d want to see the data to support the claims, too. Am I asking for too much? Not anymore. As the technology is becoming available today, these questions are also part of the thinking process when considering digital signage.
And perhaps we need to start by widening our perception of what digital signage is. It has become much more than just big outside screens. It is also inside the retail areas, on your TV, on the web…digital signage is growing fast, very fast. But most importantly, it’s growing exponentially smarter, becoming a key building block and an omni-channel strategy many retailers are now adopting. Technologies such as Kinect for Windows bring audience measurement and interaction to a new level, and analytics are unleashed by the power of Microsoft SQL Server for embedded systems and Analysis.
But digital signage might also very well be in…your pocket. Indeed some see the world’s 1 billion smartphones as a promising platform. After all, when was the last time you didn’t look at your phone? It’s a signage platform you carry with you at all times, displaying targeted messages based on your preferences, and to which you can react and interact. And interactivity is becoming an attribute sought out more and more when it comes to signage. We want to touch, we want to select, wave and--especially in some countries like Japan--we want to play! Also referred to as “gamification,” it is a form of interactivity designed to further impress the message onto us. After all, if we are playing with a machine, we will be looking at the content longer, and also have an opportunity to choose. A great example is the next generation of Windows Embedded vending machine offered by giant retailer AEON in Japan (shown below), which integrates augmented reality, facial recognition and gesture control. A far cry from the respectable “insert coin–press button–get drink” older-generation machines.
Big data is of course at the center of any smart technology today. In fact, the technology is only going to be as smart as the data analytics and business intelligence it yields. Devices (be they small or big) are connected and feeding data back; in the case of digital signage, it is a virtuous circle in which the signage, driven by relevant data analytics, becomes more efficient by adjusting its content, thus providing even more valuable data to the back end.
So what about the empty signage spaces I saw? In all likelihood, these empty spaces will see digital screens as replacements. There are a few of these now installed in some stations, and it’s simply amazing how they capture people’s attention. At the Digital Signage Japan event held in Tokyo this coming June, I will, in my keynote, suggest that “digital signage” is a thing of the past. After all, being digital is hardly a technological revolution these days. So instead I will talk about “intelligent signage” and the opportunity for retail businesses to realize their full potential and develop their omni channel strategy.
As I head back home and look at a next-generation intelligent sign across the platform of a famous Tokyo station, at the same moment, after a brief trip up to and down from the cloud, a data entry is arriving on a SQL Server system somewhere: “Man / ~40 years old / looked for 30 seconds / wearing black shirt and blue jeans/ smiling.” A sign of times to come.