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How Many Signs are Too Many?

Jul 22, 2008 12:00 PM, By John W. DeWitt

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How does the approach of a static poster compare to that of a digital sign?

You can’t compare them exactly. Say your entire clip is 15 seconds, you will be showing more information than on a static poster—but at any given time, the amount of information on a digital screen will be less than on the poster. Furthermore, we’ve found that with a digital sign, it might be better for the core message to be even more distilled, then reserve part of the time to present something more complex. You should have your core message and call to action on the screen all the time, and then use other animated features and graphical elements to make your point.

How do you measure (either empirically or intuitively) whether or not a signage network has reached the saturation point?

When it comes to retail, there definitely is a balance between getting the message out and oversaturation with too many images at once. The bottom line: You can avoid a lot of the obvious pitfalls by taking expert advice, but every environment is different, so there’s trial and error and a lot of gut feeling regarding placements.

As for measuring the saturation point—the point where there is no more benefit, or negative benefit—that’s a really good question, and I don’t think people are thinking a lot about it. The kinds of measurements in the past have mostly relied upon exit surveys and things like that—intercept shoppers and ask them, “Did you notice screens? Did you find it beneficial or annoying?” I still think it’s really more of a gut sensitivity, short of your customers saying there’s too much stuff going on. More often, customers complain about a specific piece of content. You can easily annoy customers enough for them to go to the store manager.

How do you determine the right number of screens in given type of venue?

There no correlation between the number of square feet and amount of screens. Maybe there is a giant store that is served well by a couple of screens near the checkout, and a small store that benefits from many screens. What’s more important is where they are placed. One of the more popular things to do these days is to separate out active shopping areas from draw zones, where people linger longer—could be the deli counter or bakery in a grocery. You show different content in those places than when navigating aisles.

What’s the value of having a screen at checkout, when you already have made your purchasing decisions?

Screens at checkout more often are implemented for customer-satisfaction reasons, for improving the store experience. Research shows that people are good at judging their wait time time up to about 4 or 4 1/2 minutes—after that, their estimates go haywire, and they always tend to overestimate. Supermarkets know that people get ticked off if they wait too long, so these days, checkout digital signage is more for entertainment—an ad for the sitcom coming up tonight rather than the sale item on aisle three.

You mentioned the importance of being careful about sound. How do you make sure it’s attention-getting without being overly annoying? For that matter, don’t you have a similar challenge with repetitive loops?

Sound is harder to ignore, so use it sparingly or not at all unless you know what you’re doing and can guarantee that you won’t upset customers or annoy the employees. Employee annoyance is the number-one reason why sound cables are cut—and that’s not an infrequent occurrence. It’s really easy for an upset employee with scissors to do several hundred dollars of damage.

Balancing repetition vs. longer loops has to do more with traffic patterns. If people are walking up and down aisles, repetition doesn’t make that much of a difference—in other words, it’s not likely you will upset them. If it’s a sign in a dwell zone, you don’t want to fatigue them by showing them the same thing several times in a row.

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