Comment: Has the Minority Report moment finally arrived asks Branwell Johnson

Have you walked into a shoe shop lately and been addressed out of thin air by name and the recommendation “We think these shoes would go with that outfit” while the relevant image flashes on a screen?

No, thought not. It’s an amazing 15 years since the science-fiction film Minority Report first posited a dynamic future for retail and brands featuring interactive screens delivering messages based on location and personal data. Despite the film being trotted out in many a marketing presentation, this future has not shown any great signs of materialising - until very recently.

However, with leaps in technology facilitating connectivity and the ability for data collection and storage, the potential for screens to deliver stronger in-store engagement, excitement and influence at point of purchase is now being realised.

The power of out of home is not disputed. OOH in all its forms reaches 98% of the UK population at least once a week (source Outsmart). Digital accounted for 38% of the £1.1bn overall out of home advertising market in 2016 - double the share digital recorded in 2012 (source AA/Warc Expenditure Report).

The capabilities of digital OOH are now being fast-tracked to the in-store environment. The ability to deliver the right content to the right audience at the right time via digital signage is a logical step – be that a promotional offer that kicks in on the screen by the drinks aisle when the temperature rises above a certain point, to the display of product specs and reviews on request next to demo models of white goods.

Of course, retailers must not over-step the boundaries into ‘creepy’ with data collection and personalisation. Visual recognition, in-store tracking and personal identification data will be bound legally (keep an eye on the upcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation and possible implications), and by the retailer’s own sense of the acceptance levels of its customer base for deeper targeting. No-one wants a pair of large-size trousers chasing them from screen to screen and shouting their name as they progress round a fashion retailer after trying them on.

Digital signage also allows retailers to integrate and streamline their online and offline services for a better customer experience. Videos that are proving popular online can be ‘broadcast’ in-store for instance, and ambitious retailers can follow the lead of companies like Marks & Spencer – it recently introduced a ‘virtual rail’ in its Amsterdam store with touchscreens that allowed customers to browse clothing options from its ‘e-boutique’ and view the garments being worn by a model. Demonstrating seamless online/offline integration, M&S allowed customers to place orders for clothes viewed online from the physical store via iPads or their own phone – using the store’s Wi-Fi.

The importance of some razzle dazzle retail theatre cannot be under-estimated in attracting footfall from shoppers eager for novelty. Virtual Reality is being touted as the next great engagement tool and there are some great immersive experiences, such as the John Lewis immersive VR experience developed by MPC Creative that brought Buster The Dog and his bouncing playmates to life.

However, this technology is expensive at present to roll out at scale. Digital screens are a first step for any retailer in setting up a system that can deliver some interactive surprise and delight via motion sensors, RFID tech, touchscreens and kiosks.

It’s an exciting time for those working with in-store signage technology. Just remember to keep the focus on the shopper and delivering a great customer experience and there should be plenty of opportunity to help bolster the bottom line.

Branwell Johnson is Director of Content at Propeller PR and former Deputy Editor of Marketing Week. He will be hosting the inaugural Retail Digital Signage Expo stage at Retail Digital Signage Expo at Olympia London on May 8th/9th.