Pop Art

Point of purchase technology has come a long way since the Eighties as retailers begin to grapple with displays that keep shoppers interested – and persuade them to spend more money.

A 46-foot climbing wall will be available for use by local rock climbing groups. A dedicated closed-circuit TV camera will be focused on the climbers who are expected to use this unique climbing facility.” This may sound like an advertisement for a hi-tech leisure centre or the latest development in adventure holidays but, in fact, it describes point of purchase on a grand scale.

The climbing wall, designed by consultancy Davies Baron, is part of Wade-Smith’s new Outdoor Athletic retail store in Liverpool, a concept fashion and leisure store that is using state-of-the-art POP technology to redefine shopping.

Director Robert Wade-Smith is one of the new breed of retailers who sees the value of POP in creating in-store theatre. “The way ahead is in what we have termed ‘atmospheric retailing’. Our format is to create an extremely dynamic and stimulating place to shop – far removed from the traditional department store image,” he says.

Of course, not all POP is so grandiose, but its reputation and image have come a long way over the past ten years.

The Point of Purchase Advertising Institute (Popai) feels the UK retail industry has been slow to understand the power of the medium, although attitudes are changing for two significant reasons.

First, according to Serena Lang, marketing director for Chrysalis Retail Entertainment, retailers are recognising that shoppers want variety and interest rather than bland homogeneity, and are expecting POP to create in-store character. “Stores need to attract customers not only by the virtue of their products, but also with entertaining and interesting environments,” she says. “Stimulating atmospheres encourage customers to stay longer and spend more.”

Moreover, a Mintel report, Point of Purchase 1996, found that 70 per cent of purchasing decisions are made in-store, making POP “the ultimate advertising and marketing opportunity”. With the locked-in loyal shopper who regularly buys the same brands becoming a rarer species, manufacturers and retailers are increasingly de-manding highly customised POP to make customers stop, look and buy.

Martin Law, chief executive of Fords Design Group, sees innovation as the key to the future and talks enthusiastically about the potential applications of interactive shelf talkers, touchscreen technology, holograms and piped ambient smells and sounds. “It has taken retailers and manufacturers years to fully realise the power of point of purchase that lights up, moves or makes a noise, but they are getting there slowly,” he says.

Research in the US shows that a POP display catches the eye for approximately 11 seconds but increases significantly when lighting and movement is introduced. Sound can often have an equally dramatic effect. When Spillers launched catfood brand Purrfect, a novel on-shelf sensory device, developed by Instore Marketing Technologies, talked to shoppers who strayed within a 12-foot radius of the catfood section. The battery-operated shelf purrer activated a voice message, derived from the Purrfect TV commercial, which urged customers to “Indulge your loved one with a new can of Spillers Purrfect”.

But cost is still the main barrier to greater interactivity in in-store marketing. David Williams, chairman of Popai Europe and chairman and chief executive of NDI Display, is resigned to the fact that every client wants something new and innovative, but seldom has the budget to buy it.

“The perceived set-up and maintenance costs of the technologies deter many of our customers, but technophobia also plays an important part. Both shoppers and retailers are wary of special effects,” he says.

Brian Pearson is point of purchase development manager with Cadbury, one of the UK’s largest spenders on POP, and is watching developments in technology closely.

“Point of purchase has always formed an important part of Cadbury’s marketing and we are very interested in some of the developments, but hi-tech POP has to be right for the job. There are also more elements to consider such as maintenance, security and sourcing. Many of the components used in the displays are imported from the Far East which means that the planning process is much longer,” he says.

In a report commissioned by Popai UK in 1994, Nielsen was cautious in its conclusions, forecasting that key developments in the UK POP industry would come through “low cost, passive interactive, low technologies involving batteries for movement effects”.

Adding fuel to this conclusion, BAA withdrew its interactive shopping kiosks from Heathrow a few months ago because few people actually ordered anything on the system.

But Richard Dutton, managing director of Evans Petty Associates, believes it is still too early to dismiss technologies like touchscreen as gimmicks. “Interactive technology in the retail environment is still in the experimental phase. Through home shopping and the Internet, people will get used to various forms of interactive screen shopping. Eventually it will dramatically improve the service offered by retailers.”

However, others have argued that touchscreen and multimedia POP systems are only relevant to the sectors that involve complex purchasing decisions. The motor industry, for example, has seen the value of hi-tech sales systems to entice customers otherwise wary of the hard sell. And travel centres are also beginning to appreciate that multimedia offers the scope to keep information up to date and the opportunity to show promotional videos of holiday destinations.

But Dutton points out that interactive systems could also pave the way to marketers’ dream of real-time retail marketing. “With touchscreen systems, retailers will be able to respond immediately to local conditions, and eliminate situations such as discounting soft drinks in the middle of a heat wave. Smart cards linked to interactive systems will also play an important role in the future.”

Paul Clarke, business development manager at Kenton Display, voices the frustration of many when he says the strict POP policies of the retail multiples has stifled the medium’s development in the UK. “There has been too much competition rather than co-operation between suppliers and retailers,” he says. But as retailer power grows and the retailer/manufacturer relationship enters a new phase, a spirit of partnership is beginning to emerge.

NDI Display’s Williams believes this is symbolised by attitudes towards POP which are more positive now than at any time in Popai Europe’s eight-year history. Retailers are seeing the longer-term, strategic value of POP and as a result are looking to the brand manufacturers to advise them on creative ways to promote and display merchandise. Many see it as inevitable that technologically advanced POP will play an important role.

Against the backdrop of a competitive communications market, electronics retailer Tandy developed an in-store communications centre in conjunction with Vodafone, Motorola and Samsung. Selling products from faxes to mobile phones, the concept was built by POP specialists Oakley Young and will be located in all of Tandy’s 348 high street premises. Computer terminals have also been installed in 50 stores, which are linked to service provider Unique Air. This will give customers an online mobile phone connection.

“We wanted to change the disjointed appearance of our displays to a more cohesive, authoritative presentation,” says Tandy’s head of marketing Andrew Fryatt. “Visually it works. Everybody has come together and worked in a partnership that will bring strategic benefits for all the parties involved.”

The sports brand Reebok, for example, views retail presence as being one of four global priorities and has invested millions of pounds developing its “total environment” concept. While percentage of spend remains under wraps, US-based Stephen Reeds, Reebok’s director of retail design, global, says retail design now takes a bigger chunk of the marketing budget than ever before. “Everything comes together in-store – the customer, the product, the brand images and the messages. The skill of our trade is to highlight the product. If the product is merchandised well, it will sell itself,” he says.

New fixtures and fittings were produced and Evans Petty Associates was brought on board, initially to create graphics at point of purchase. Today, Evans Petty is developing electroluminescence which allows wafer-thin paper to be illuminated from within by static, intermittent or moving light and produces images of photographic quality. Also due for launch is 3D projection, which creates free-floating logos or moving graphics within the retail space.

Reeds believes the investment is paying off. “Customers anticipate a shopping experience. They should be excited by the retail environment and gain a great deal of pleasure from it. The brand that fulfils and exceeds those expectations is the brand that will keep customers coming back for more.”

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