Retail Display Technology Horror Show

With a nod to Friday the 13th, let me take a moment to mention something that scares me when it comes to retail design: technology at retail, specifically video monitors.

Now before you roll your eyes and write me off as some sort of pre-historic relic, let me explain. I actually love the idea of interacting with shoppers via the latest technology. What scares me is how retailers, marketers and manufacturers arrive at, and execute, what seemingly is a simple “no-brainer”.

Here’s what happens: everyone gets together and figures out that they have to do something different for a display or their store. They see article after article that the internet is pounding the snot out of brick-and-mortar stores. They see people flocking to the latest social media site du jour. Guests are seemingly surgically attached to their smart phones.

What is a retailer, brand or marketing company to do?

At the tail end of the creative brief they throw in this line:

“include design concepts with a monitor”

Erm, okay.

That’s what scares me.

“Make the display purple like our brand, make it 72″ tall and make sure it has wheels. Oh and add a random monitor in there, ’cause that will solve a lot of problems.”

Um, nope.

This reeks of an un-thought-through (I made that up) tactical approach that is often thrown in by some random person (owner, marketing, salesman, design director, intern…).  Pro tip: throwing monitors at the problem is not part of a fundamental, comprehensive, marketing strategy.

So, before you go off the deep end, and waste a ton of money, here are my unscientific tips for putting monitors (and technology) at retail.

1) Please, Please, Please, Have A Purpose

Monitors cost a lot of money and use a lot of resources. Just because the internet uses video and bejeweled buttons, doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. Ask yourself why do you need a monitor? How does it fit into your marketing strategy and brand? Who will look at it? If it’s interactive, who will interact with it? Is it worth the cost and complexity?

Do not, do not, do not EVER just put a line item on the creative brief that says – “oh, show us some monitor concepts too” with nothing to back up the rationale.

Otherwise, use large format graphics and creative merchandising to get more bang for your buck.

2) It’s Like A Pet, Who’s Going To Take Care Of It?

We all see it. All the time. Brand XYZ comes out with an awesome new display made by world-renowned Design Firm ABC. It’s got lights, monitors, and $200K worth of lasers and holograms selling ice to Eskimos. Every trade publication and industry association fawns all over it. Salesmen crack the champagne and it’s rumored there’s even a Hollywood movie in the works…

Three months later guests are looking at a static image of the brand logo, waiving their arms fruitlessly in front of an 72″ vertical monitor, in an effort to “try on” clothes. Or the brand message changes and no one even bothers to plug-in a new USB drive to download the update. Eventually the monitor ends up in some district manager’s basement in time for the Super Bowl.

Pass the salsa.

Hey guys, what seems like a good idea during the design phase equals a lot of care and feeding down the road.

Nothing says you’re out of touch like technology that no longer works at retail.

3) Are Committed To Doing It Right?

You know, you’ve got this cool video monitor with all this technology, are you going to actually use it? Or are you just throwing it out there because the guys selling bread in the next aisle have a monitor?

Do not, I repeat, do not just put your logo on the screen, with a slide show of random products. Every time you do that, god kills a somebody with a Marketing MBA.

Understand your guests’ wants and needs. Take the time to do your research; find out what their frustrations are, how technology can help, AND attract them. Then spend the money on comprehensive graphic design, programming, and industrial design to make it look like you care about your brand, the retailer and guests.

Please, design the user experience (like real humans are going to use the technology by the way) and trouble shoot it before you go live.

4) Make Sure You’ve Got The Right Product

Some businesses need this technology at retail; video game console companies for example. What kind of monster doesn’t like stopping at Best Buy to race through the Alps on an Xbox?

If you’re selling thumbtacks in a hardware store, I’m not sure you need a monitor. But maybe… Please have a compelling reason to put wires, glass and metal on a shelf front.

Time is a consumer’s most precious commodity. Information their greatest need at retail. Help them make informed decisions, and make them fall in love with your shopping experience. They want to be entertained, but they are savvy enough to know if you’re wasting their time.

Alright, I think you get the idea. Below are some random images I pulled from my personal archive with my thoughts.

Just to be safe though, I think I’ll avoid going to retail this Friday the 13th, if it’s all the same to you.

Do you agree? Disagree? Who does tech at retail right? What are the worst examples you’ve seen? How can we improve the retail experience with technology?

Continue the discussion in the comments below.


Chris Weigand Design, LLC is a full service retail design consultancy who is more than happy to design your next display or store, with or without monitors, lasers and holograms. We want to help make the emotional connection between your brand and guests in the physical retail space. And have fun doing it.

Contact us today at (330) 858-8926 or visit for more information.




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