New technology popping up in all sorts of places

Point-of-purchase displays are moving with the times and heading outside the store environment to stake their claim to a piece of the wider world

Virtual stores are providing consumers with high-tech ways to purchase goods

As an industry that has long been associated with temporary cardboard displays, the point-of-purchase sector has become used to more glamorous elements of the marketing mix hogging the limelight. But now it has a new spring in its step thanks to the rapid uptake of mobile technology, which means that point of purchase communications can be delivered almost anywhere,.

“The remit [of PoP] used to be easy to define because it was within the four walls of a store,” says Phil Day, UK and Ireland director at trade body POPAI. “That has completely changed in the past 18 months to two years.” The spread of new technology and demand from retailers to escape the boundaries of physical stores has meant that PoP expertise is now in demand in previously unexpected places, he says.

Tesco ran a short but high-profile trial in the departures lounge of Gatwick Airport’s North Terminal in August, where a virtual store allowed travellers to browse products on a large screen. By scanning barcodes using a smartphone app, holidaymakers could order groceries to be delivered at home on the day of their return. The retailer says it is analysing the results of the trial, and of similar tests in South Korea where it has trialled QR supermarkets.

A slightly less hi-tech version of the same concept was used by Ocado in Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre. Pictures of products were applied to a temporary hoarding for shoppers to order by mobile for home delivery.

But it is arguably outside the UK that the fastest progress is being made in the grocery sector. Chinese ecommerce site Yihaodian, which is 51 per cent owned by US giant Walmart, announced plans to open 1,000 virtual stores across Greater China. These blank city spaces will come alive via augmented reality technology that interacts with smartphones. The stores will not house products, and ordered items will be delivered in the same way as online orders.

The empty spaces through which customers will move will be larger than local convenience stores but smaller than supermarkets, and will stock around 1,000 virtual products. The concept seeks to merge the social and active elements of physical shopping, while removing queues and much of the retail supply chain and replacing them with a home delivery system familiar to those who grocery shop online.

William Gant&Sons used new PoP technology to sell products while its store was refurbished

President and chief executive of Walmart Global eCommerce Neil Ashe says the company has invested in the website to help it focus on the growing middle class in China. “This investment demonstrates we are committed to developing ecommerce in China. Together we will focus on serving this emerging market.

Yihaodian will gain access to cutting-edge capabilities and technology from Walmart for its customers in China, and Yihaodian will offer expertise and capabilities that benefit our other businesses and customers worldwide.”

Ecommerce is a small part of Walmart’s business – in the US the market is dominated by Amazon. Yihaodian co-founder and chief executive Junling Liu says working with Walmart will enable it to offer keener pricing. “We believe this partnership will allow us to deliver enhanced product offerings, lower prices and a better shopping experience for our customers.” Other western supermarkets will be watching the results closely.

Naturally, as well as fulfilling the practical demand for grocery shopping, the new ‘virtual store’ strategy allows standout set piece advertising projects. Computer brand HP took point of purchase to the people when it turned an Amsterdam tram stop into an innovative pop-up store for the launch of its Envy 14 Spectre laptop earlier this year.

The store was at the Leidseplein tram stop, the busiest in the city. Customers were able to find out about the new range from several interactive displays, and buy laptops from retail staff using mobile payment terminals. Security guards kept the stock of laptops safe, despite the ‘open door’ policy of the bus stop, meaning shoppers could take their purchase away with them.

Further bus stops throughout the city bore a code that customers could scan with their phones; doing so directed them to the main pop-up store where they had the chance to win one of the new laptops. Liselotte Lont, consumer marketing manager at HP, says 4,500 of these codes were input at the pop-up bus stop.

“The goal was not only to be a well known and trusted brand, but also to be a cool brand in terms of the design and our products. We did some research on that and there was a definite impact before and after the launch,” she says.

“With the launch of the Spectre product, we decided that we needed to do more than just run a TV ad to get the attention of the right people. And we chose to do it like this because it needed to be something spectacular.”

The Leidseplein tram stop is well known to consumers in Amsterdam because it has a permit to be used for high profile advertising campaigns – it has been turned into a giant monster for the launch of movies, for example – and its location guarantees it high visibility.

But as well as achieving interaction with consumers, HP was keen to get as much press coverage as possible for the Spectre launch event. Lont claims the campaign more than achieved that objective and that HP divisions from other Emea markets are keen to introduce similar projects as a result. It will not, however, be repeated in the Netherlands, where the brand is keen to introduce different innovations for its next major launch.

HP turned an Amsterdam tram stop into a pop-up shop to launch its Envy 14 Spectre laptop

The technology trend is taking off elsewhere, too, including within the traditional store environment. In the UK, fashion chain New Look has been experimenting with image-recognition augmented reality app Blippar to highlight a new make-up range from Kelly Brook. The retailer’s new concept boutique store in London’s Marble Arch was the first to feature PoP and window displays that are Blippar enabled, letting customers access rich media content by scanning the celebrity’s signature. Doing so allows shoppers to ‘try on’ Brook’s nail varnish, watch a video and have their picture taken with her. The displays, unveiled in mid-November, were described by the retailer as setting a precedent, as it planned to roll them out to 700 locations across Europe.

New Look head of multichannel Natalie Pead says: “Marble Arch, Blippar and Kelly Brook are great ingredients to showcase the New Look multichannel vision, resulting in an innovative shopping experience.”

As consumers get used to interacting with screens outside the retail environment, the sky is the limit for virtual store operations, according to many sector experts.

“We have been predicting for 25 years that screens would become ubiquitous,” says James Roper, chief executive of trade body Interactive Media in Retail Group. “The point here is that any surface can be a screen. We are looking at a future where paint is a screen, walls are a screen, ceilings are a screen.

“With Wi-Fi and the way networking is going, that will mean that any screen can be a shop, which stands to transform the entire model – not just in the way ecommerce is done. The traditional retail model was location, location, location. This completely destroys that because there is no location. Everywhere is the location.”

While traditional retailers, with large and expensive property portfolios operating as shops, may fear this future, consumers are increasingly keen on using technology that is simple and intuitive, says IMRG’s Roper: “All of this has been driven by consumers, and the consumer proposition is really simple. More choice, more convenience, lower costs. It’s compelling. This world is about simplicity and user friendliness.”

Case Study: William Grant


When Scottish Whisky brand William Grant & Sons embarked on a refurbishment project at its duty free store in Boston Airport, it decided to turn a challenge into an opportunity to experiment with new point of purchase technology.

Faced with a four-month period, from January to April this year, when it would be unable to sell its products to passing travellers because of building work, the brand secured the store hoarding for marketing and advertising purposes. This provided a wall 50 feet long by 10 feet high in the main terminal, in a high footfall location. Retail property partner International Shoppes supported the project.

Working with marketing agency HRG, the brand used a virtual shopping wall to maximise its presence and facilitate sales during renovations. Customers selected products from images on the wall, product barcodes were scanned by an assistant with a tablet, which was also used for taking payment, and the products were then collected by passengers at the departure gate. Transactions were relatively quick, allowing many customers to be served, and staff were able to talk to shoppers about the products and their attributes.

The wall was designed to counteract the industrial feel typical of many airport interiors, instead bringing to life the individual characters of William Grant brands including Glenfiddich and Tullamore Dew by using artwork based around the theme of a warm and relaxing room.

William Grant & Sons travel retail director for North America Stephen Corrigan told The Moodie Report: “I have not seen anything like this in my years in travel retail. From William Grant’s viewpoint it’s a real win: we’re the first to be involved in a project like this as a partner.

Technology: mobile screen

The growth of mobile technology has forged closer links between the world of traditional PoP and the online world, according to trade organisation POPAI.

Indeed, it has become so common for in-store displays to feature a digital element that the technology has become mainstream, says POPAI director of UK and Ireland Phil Day. But there have been significant changes.

Disruptive new technology has changed people’s buying patterns – making it more unpredictable for retailers. The trade body says that this makes it increasingly important for brands to have clear objectives, and to understand what consumers are doing when developing point of purchase communication strategies.

Only a few years ago, digital displays consisted of screens in stores that broadcast messages, with varying degrees of sophistication. But now it is increasingly

the case that customers carry their own screens with them in the form of smartphones and so they can be targeted individually. This means that retailers can reduce their investment levels in hardware, and the nature of mobile phone contracts means the latest technology is distributed relatively quickly.

With the ability of smartphones to interact directly with displays, a new world of opportunity is opening up for brands and retailers to communicate directly to customers via point of purchase displays.

Case Study: Uniqlo

Technology can also be used to bring product attributes to life through point of purchase displays. Japanese fashion chain Uniqlo has highlighted the benefits of its Heattech fabric, which despite being thin retains body heat to provide day-long warmth, with in-store digital displays powered by kinetic pads that capture energy from the footsteps of customers entering its stores.

In addition, ‘Hot Spots’ in locations such as London’s Covent Garden, Soho Square and Westfield shopping centres, let customers interact with a game that converted their energy into the chance to win garments. The fun could be joined via Facebook or downloadable mobile games.

Uniqlo head of ecommerce and marketing Taichi Sakabe says the display exceeded expectations when it was trialled at the beginning of November. More than 35,000 vouchers had been issued to customers, with a “high” redemption rate, he says. “As you can imagine, it is an analogy of Heattech itself. We want to give the customer the analogy of converting energy to heat… they are jumping and making energy. I think that message can be quite well perceived by customers,” he says.

The campaign, supported by widespread advertising in locations such as London Underground, was developed by BD Network using kinetic technology from Pavegen.