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Comment: Listening, not talking, is the key to promotions says Andy Candler

What does POS mean to you? Almost certainly, Point of Sale. But to me it’s Point of Study or, perhaps more accurately, Point of Survey. Retail spaces aren’t just a place to show and shift products – they’re also an arena in which to find out more about your customer.

I’ve been crafting retail experiences for over 30 years, helping brands like Intel, Sonos and Microsoft gain presence in some of the world’s largest retail stores. Embedded within a POS, interactive displays invite shoppers to learn more about a product, its features, and where it sits in the market, to ultimately make an informed buying decision. What consumers don’t know is that each display is gathering valuable anonymous metrics. We can see the path they follow through a presentation, how long they spend on each section, and whether video content is viewed to the end.

The story this tells is revealing. Scrolling through our customers’ data logs, I can compare how products perform in France or Germany, report on the most popular items in Belgium, and advise one of the biggest names in home automation that interest in its smoke alarm increases by X% at the weekend. This last point is important, as the brand can make sure its outlets have sufficient stock to cover the likely spike in sales.

Trojan research

Brands that appear in larger retail stores frequently ask how they can research their audience directly. My answer is always the same: installing an interactive POS helps the retailer shift more product, and lets the brand gather valuable data first-hand. This can be streamed directly, or collected every few months by the brand’s merchandising teams.

The latter isn’t ideal, as the sudden rush of stats can often seem overwhelming. In such instances, my advice is simple: decide what question you want to answer before looking at the data, strip it down so you start with a subset, and consider what external factors – like weather, holidays and sporting events – may have skewed the results. Once these have been allowed for, and tests performed on a subset of the data to see whether it answers the question posed, is it time to consider the bigger picture.

Analysing metrics, and drawing out the stories that they tell, is an art. Done well, though, it will give brands a more comprehensive view of how its products are performing than sales figures alone can provide. If the data shows that customers frequently view one part of a presentation several times over, but that’s not reflected in higher sales, it could be that the product is too complicated or the marketing message is wrong. Either will give the brand a heads-up, allowing it to address the issue before the store manager informs sales assistants not to give that brand promotion as much focus.

The right tool for the job

So, is someone wasting their time if they just display a series of slides without gathering metrics? I’d say that depends what they’re selling. If it’s a bottle of perfume, then I’d recommend static slides telling the customer what’s on offer. Anything else would be overkill. For a product with a lot of model iterations, though, which is high value or more complicated, it’s important to educate the customer prior to purchase – and, at the same time, record how they react to ensure you’re presenting your message most effectively.

If you think the shop floor is only a place for selling (and upselling), you’re only using part of its potential. It’s a valuable research environment which, used well, will help a brand craft its message, and its products and services, to directly address its most likely buyers.

Andrew Candler is managing director of The Creative Engine, a world-leading digital media agency enjoying close relationships with many of the world's most successful companies.