Paving The Path To Smart Retail Media – Building On A Future Foundation

June 21, 2021 by Dave Haynes

Guest Post: Laura Davis-Taylor, inReality

Laura Davis-Taylor

Embracing the store as a valid media channel is finally coming of age, and our industry is at a crossroads:  build it on the principles of the past, or pivot to position it for maximum value, profit and cross-channel value. 

The religious debate at hand is if the model to follow is that of mass reach and frequency or personalization valued by both the people it reaches and the advertisers seeking to connect with them.

Given that many of retail media’s apertures are digital, it would seem plausible to model after other established digital marketing tools such as online and mobile marketing. The challenge is that many in-store marketing vehicles first appeared in print. Therefore, they have too often been categorized as ‘print in motion’ versus the extremely powerful digital engagement tools that they are. 

As multiple industry change agents have appeared, both technologically and culturally, the time is now to recast how we view in-store digital media and the role in which it can play for all involved in the retail ecosystem when it becomes ‘smart’. 

The physical store is now as connected to technology and big data as it is to connected life. As more enabling platforms emerge, we expect stores to become “smart,” attuned to the people, activities and transactions at every single location and engagement point. When it does, the data it uses, harnesses, and generates can now live within the larger data cloud and auto-optimize content across all channels — including the store — in real time.

Like Doppler radar for every-moment experience design, digital messaging can then be responsive at all touchpoints, constantly serving, analyzing and re-assimilating for maximum effect.

We are in the early stages of this smart store reality, and thanks to the outcome of the pandemic, those that were already on this path are moving towards it at a confident clip. The ones that weren’t? They have some catching up to do. Luckily, there are some great people and platforms out there to help, but it starts by embracing the concept of smart retail media­.

In simple terms, smart retail media is AI-empowered in-store digital content. It brings the same kind of ‘responsive’ messages we’ve come to know and love with websites and social platforms into the store. To make it real, however, the CMS, playlist, statistical models and algorithms need to operate in sync, fueled by a real-time AI-enabled engine.

When you think about it, what we’re really talking about is in-store IoT – and it’s coming fast. By the end of 2022, for the first time in history, there will be more IoT gadgets online than there are traditional devices like laptops, smartphones, PCs, and landline phones.

A perfect storm of adoption drivers is behind this tidal wave – the most important being the reality of data at churning at every in-store digital endpoint. When there is data at scale, we can watch results in real time, then test new things to see what happens. This is what we optimization is, and it’s a standard with online media.  

What we do to measure digital marketing efforts in the “virtual” online store is a perfect model for what we must do in the physical store. Smart Retail Media brings forth the promise of real-time content tied to real-time results measurement, just like we have with websites, and the model is a vast departure from the mass “reach and frequency’ TV advertising model some in-store networks are banking on.

This is a big, important subject, and it gets much more deeply explored in a new white paper developed by inReality, where I work, and Ladorian.

The paper explores this topic and hopefully sparks further thoughts around this very exciting topic, especially as the ‘store as media’ opportunity continues to proliferate. The views are based on my experience, history and irrefutable lessons learned from working both inside major retail stores and global ad agencies with brands, shoppers and technology service providers.

The e-book is a free download and you can pick it up here …


Laura Davis-Taylor is the Chief Strategy Officer at Atlanta’s inReality, a venue analytics platform that transforms any tracking, measurement and influencing technology into the metrics that matter most. She’s an executive board member of the Digital Signage Federation and her book, “Lighting up the Aisle: Practices and Principles for In-store Digital Media”, is the only existing resource for how retail brands can harness technology to reinvent their in-store experience.

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