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Point of Purchase

By The Drum, Administrator

August 4, 2003 | 7 min read

Holographic wall displays, instantly accessible shopping habit databases, personally targeted purchasing suggestions triggered by retinal scans ... When Steven Spielberg set out to make the 2002 science fiction film Minority Report he spent a huge amount of the pre-production time on designing tomorrow’s world. Ever the perfectionist, he amassed teams of specialists from a variety of areas, such as architecture, automotive design and advertising, to make the world of Minority Report as realistic as possible. The holographic personal shopping assistants were how Spielberg’s advertising gurus imagined the typical shopping centre point of purchase (POP) would look 50 years from now.

As fanciful as these suggestions might seem, it is hard not to be taken in by this vision of the future. In the past few years, the POP in every retail outlet, from shops to bars to cinemas, has developed at an exponential rate. While the POP was once the domain of cardboard and plastic, it is now home to a multitude of brand mats, interactive consoles and plasma screens. The brave new world of customer recognition through retinal scans seems closer every day.

As if to emphasise the amount of technology now being thrown at the POP the Watford-based in-store research specialist RMS has introduced a wide range of high-tech solutions to the problem of knowing how people shop. RMS employs everything from in-store video networks to glasses fitted with micro-cameras and worn by consenting customers to discover how people interact with their shopping environment.

“There’s an increasing demand to know about shopper behaviour,” says Guy Vaughan, managing director at RMS. “Traditionally, manufacturers have done their consumer research – looking at what makes us tick in terms of flavours, packaging and so on – and then they’ve sent their products out to stores, thinking the retailers know their shoppers. To an extent, retailers have, but they’ve never really understood how shoppers behave in the store. As a consequence, we’re finding that manufacturers are asking POP providers what they need to do to engage people.”

Vaughan is convinced that technologies to record customer behaviour will start to integrate more and more with the traditional POP products over the coming years, the digital revolution helping to provide retailers with an insight into how their customers think. However, recording in-store behaviour is by no means the most popular use of modern technologies at the POP. Just look at the proliferation of the ubiquitous plasma screen – once an unaffordable luxury, these screens are now cropping up at a seemingly unstoppable rate.

Paul Castledine, group creative director at the Birmingham-based design consultancy Boxer, is one of several people to have noticed this: “Sometimes these things can actually pollute the shopping environment, rather than making it more effective. You’ve got to watch out for the wallpaper effect, where you see so many of these things you don’t even bother looking at them. And when you’re just bombarding people with sales messages, it’s just not interesting.

“If you look at the States, there are some very good uses of plasmas, where they’re used more for mood and to build brand rather than for the hard sell. And that more subtle approach can work a lot better. If you’re bombarded with too many sales messages, your mind switches off – the overuse of plasmas could lead to this unless people find different ways of using them.”

This is exactly what Point of Purchase TV in Fulham is doing, and one of the company’s most recent projects demonstrates this perfectly. POPTV has been commissioned to install a complete network of screens in Birmingham’s new shopping centre, the Bullring. However, rather than going for the hard sell, the Bullring’s network provides essential information for shoppers, from bus times to local news and weather.

And this sort of network has attracted more attention for POPTV than expected. “There’s been a huge increase in the number of people talking to us about installing screen networks,” says the company’s commercial director, Angela Coleman. “With the retailers at the Bullring, we’ve been talking about how the shopping centre’s network can grow their own businesses and drive people into their particular units. But what the retailers are saying to us is that they’d like to install their own networks within their own stores.

“People are starting to realise that technology costs are coming down and that in-store networks are now possible. Wholesalers are also realising that these screens are a very good way of influencing POP material.”

While these new POP technologies might take some time to catch on, their presence on the market is having a positive effect on budgets for the POP. According to a recent survey by Point of Purchase Advertisers International (POPAI), 75 per cent of shopping decisions are made in-store. This suggests that the POP should really be commanding a proportional cut of the marketing budget. The reality is quite different.

As Guy Vaughan explains: “The POP has been ignored as a marketing tool for one very important reason – it’s not been seen as strategic. It’s always left until the end of the campaign as it’s not the sexy end of the business. In fact, though, if you don’t connect with your customers in-store, a lot of the above-the-line work just goes to waste.”

Now, though, it seems that the advent of the likes of plasma screens and interactive systems is making the POP sexier, with more and more companies willing to spend money on it. So, are interactive systems going to replace the more traditional media of cardboard and plastic as the POP commands greater budgets? Matthew Crummack, director of SPP, a below-the-line agency that operates across Europe, doesn’t think so.

“We’ve noticed that there’s been a lot of talk about bringing new media solutions into the POP, but we haven’t noticed any sustainable solutions that bring value to it. There are several ideas and proposed solutions in test, but we haven’t yet found a sustainable one that’s cost- effective for the client’s needs.

“It’s the same now as it was five years ago when these new media were tried out: to have interactive solutions at the POP means you need to have equipment there, such as a PC or a screen. And this PC or screen will need maintenance, which drives the cost up. Things like the touchscreens you get in service stations are very hard-wearing, but also very expensive, so replicating that into 500 Tesco stores is not practical.”

Paul Castledine concurs: “There’s still a huge role for cardboard, basically because of cost. People have played with touchscreen technology, but to get people to feel really comfortable with it is quite a task.

“Vodaphone trialled an in-store touchscreen system that guided you through a phone’s capabilities, but nobody wanted to use it – it wasn’t personal, it was quite cold and it almost became this thing that people felt they couldn’t approach. And you’d think in an environment like Vodaphone, people wouldn’t be scared of new technology.”

So it seems that until these fears can be overcome and the technology has advanced to a stage where costs are manageable, cardboard display manufacturers can sleep easy. Thankfully, though, these new technologies are giving the POP a higher priority in every marketeer’s eyes, so those holographic displays might only be a mere 50 years away ...

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