To no one’s surprise, the number of profitable retailers across the United States seems to be in steady decline. Over two thousand stores shut down last year alone, although that’s nothing compared to 2008 when a record 6,000 stores closed permanently. Worse, if closings for 2017 continue on their current trajectory, shut-downs will surpass even those of 2008.
Although Amazon.com can’t bear all the blame in this story, the simple reality is that between 2010 and 2014 the e-commerce industry grew by an annual average of $30 billion dollars.
InfoComm challenges the idea that this decline is the end of retail: in fact, during such a bad year for retailers, this commercial AV event has had its biggest showing ever. Over 44,000 attendees packed into the event (a 14% increase since last year’s gathering held in Las Vegas).
This huge turnout may signal the reinvention of retail: If stores are closing at such a dramatic rate, those that remain must face the need to create new experiences for customers, increasing their competitiveness in the marketplace. Physical retail environments must evolve to invoke unique responses from customers and rival the allure of e-commerce.
For that reason, the main challenge of the commercial AV industry will be to focus on improving pre-existing systems for more efficient marketing uses. As Brad Grimes, Director of Communications at InfoComm puts it: “This is part of our mission to evolve the AV ecosystem [and] reflect a more solutions-oriented mindset.”
Digital signage technology has been one of the main features of this latest InfoComm gathering. Innovative new screen types have been presented, from the biggest sharks of the industry to the smallest names in attendance. The recent innovations in digital signage stem from more secure access to content – due to recent controversies – and increased professionalism across all categories.
In recent years, digital signage has proven itself to be a powerful engagement tool. New features on display at InfoComm confirm the benefits of further development for this already-useful product: anti-fingerprint coatings, anti-scratch and anti-glare materials, panels that offer interactivity with the customer, and those that are reaching Ultra-HD 4K-quality imagery thanks to improvements in LED technology.
The latest debates about augmented and virtual reality was addressed at the Immersive Technologies Pavilion. Although VR is being heavily marketed to the entertainment industry and museums, the potential for other businesses’ use of this technology was emphasized at the event.
Currently, augmented reality is poised to offer more immediate benefits for retail than virtual reality. Even if the level of immersion in this technology is lower, it offers solutions that seem more familiar to customers. Examples of applications include the ability to walk through a facility and comment on areas of a rendering, or learning additional information about a product or service through these platforms.
On the other hand, virtual reality currently seems more suited for B2B applications, where businesses can experience how their future stores or projects will be in a responsive environment.
Virtual reality also poses a significant logistics problem which must be addressed: the need for an immersive 360° audio system. Nowadays, VR platforms use stereo sound, which is far from adequate for optimal user experience.
The Growing AV Industry
Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis (IOTA) projected that the global pro-AV market will grow to $230 billion by 2022 (using last year’s industry valuation of $178 billion as a baseline). The main drivers of this growth are considered to be widespread transition from projections to displays, increasingly common integration control and lighting of building systems, the growth of media servers and storage bringing cloud and SaaS to pro-AV, and new industry buyers and users.
In a solution-oriented market, all of these drivers are at their core simply instruments to create selling-point-oriented experiences for customers. At the end of the day, on-site technology will be the key to differentiating between shopping on one’s PC and shopping in-store.
This issue is not only a matter of increasing store competitiveness against other stores, but also against retail’s biggest enemy: the convenience of shopping from one’s own sofa. With that in mind, the popularity of InfoComm is good news for the industry. The possibilities that new AV technology offer are a glimpse into widening future horizons for retail.