Small Screens For Big C-Store Moments

October 9, 2015 by guest author, Michael Tutton

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GUEST POST: Henrik Andersson, Instorescreen

Thousands of convenience store owners and operators will be in Las Vegas next week for the annual NACS trade show, an event built heavily around helping these businesses find new ways to maintain and build their bottom lines.

It’s also a chance for the brands and services that use the convenience retail channel to get ideas and products that are driving consumer buying.

Here’s what we know about “c-store” retailing: People are in and out of a convenience store – whether it’s a standalone or tied to gas pump islands – very quickly. They run in, and they run out. They don’t tend to linger.

So whatever marketers are doing better catch consumer attention in the seconds – yes, seconds – that are available to the retailer and their brand marketing partners.

There is validated research out there suggesting fruit flies have longer attention spans than humans, so if marketers want people to see their products, and cause an interested reaction, it better happen in a blink or two.

That’s where digital displays – embedded with the product in their shelving units, racks and chillers – can make that difference. When marketers have just moments, the brighter light, saturated color, depth and motion of an LCD display can catch a fast-shifting gaze as shoppers run in, come to the cash counter, and run out.

This is not just theory. It happens. It works.

My company works with consumer brands all over the world, putting usually small displays in places that get noticed. One brand we worked with needed a way to stand out from competing products, and “own” that display space. It put in small, low-profile LCD screens, and did nothing more than change out marketing messages – just still images – every eight hours.

The measured, sustained sales lift was 32%, and the brand really did, as a result, own the visual space for that category in a way that just wasn’t going to happen with more traditional printed material.

The feedback from our client: by its own calculations, it got a return on its capital and creative investment on the installations in about two months.

The opportunity to make an impact with digital screens crosses product categories – from sodas, salty snacks and candy bars to lottery tickets, stamps and prepaid SIM cards. Raised awareness tends to have a direct tie to raised sales numbers.

Digital display is also a way to increase overall purchase averages. Some of our clients are using screens in convenience – strategically positioned at ordering and purchase areas – to drive upsells. It works for combos – like adding a complementary food item. Or up-sizing an order for a little more money.

Adding a dollar to the average order total is huge to retailers. They are under steady pressure to find new revenue sources and build margins, particularly as they watch the steady erosion of tobacco purchase revenues, as smoker populations shrink.

Putting displays in merchandised areas is not new. The difference today is that the proliferation of tablets and other smart devices has greatly reduced the costs of screens and their internal electronics. Search for tablets online, and you’ll see ones from China selling for less than $100.

So can a brand marketer or retailer just buy low-cost tablets, stick in memory cards loaded with images or video, and call them retail displays?

Sure. But there’s a qualifier to that …

For a short-term effort, in which the screens are never going to be re-purposed for another campaign, cheap, almost disposable tablets might be enough. Some may last months. Others may lock up and go dark in weeks or even days. It’s a calculated risk, but it will certainly save on upfront costs.

However, using the cheapest option for getting noticeable displays into stores means the intended message is probably not going to fully reach the targeted audience. Dead screens, front and center in merchandising displays, are also going to reflect badly on the brand. Worse, the brand marketers will never know what’s on and what’s out in most cases. Based on years of experience and listening, we know about two-thirds of c-store retail sites will never contact the brand about faulty equipment. Simply put – they’re busy, and the screens are not their problem.

The added cost to switch to commercial displays that are built to last is surprisingly low. In a lot of cases, the difference between a low-end consumer tablet and a purpose-designed, built-to-last commercial device of the same size is less than 20%.

We have commercial-grade displays that have been running in stores – all day, every day – for more than seven years for one of our clients.

The extra investment in properly engineered equipment tends to be money well-spent. Retailers and brand marketers want to focus on their bottom lines and their strategies, not on the questionable lifespans of merchandising displays.

On top of that, going commercial-grade opens up the possibility to fully customize screens, and go well beyond just sticking tablets and screens  on top of displays or mounted in shelves. Much of our work has been about delivering screens and merchandising units that fully reflect the brand’s colors and feel. Do you want a charcoal display frame, or one in your brand’s distinctive blue or green?

We’re going to NACS next week, and our message will be simple: Digital displays, done well, are powerful tools to reach and influence consumers in those critical few seconds inside convenience retail stores.

If you are attending NACS this year, we’ll see you there!

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