Digital Retail Signage Solutions Come of Age with Additional Technology Capabilities

When was the last time you went to a retail store and had a great experience? No, I don’t mean customer service or super cool music in the dressing rooms. When was the last time that you went into a retail store and had a memorable experience that made you smile, or gave you more information about a product or service in real time than you might have gleaned online?

Retailers in particular have become more intrigued with digital signage over the last decade. The shift to digital meant that organizations could change their pricing, menus, or other details in real time, without needing to change out physical signage. Today, three types of digital signage are typically used in customer-facing environments.

Passive Signage

Passive signage is what you would encounter at a fast food restaurant at the airport. This type of digital signage is typically displayed on one or more screens, and either remains static all the time or changes at set intervals, such as a digital menu board that switches over at noon. Passive signage can be hosted on a local machine or over the Internet, and it’s generally more cost effective than running print jobs every time your business wants to make a change. It’s very utilitarian. However, it lacks the interactive element that really draws people in.

Interactive Signage

Interactive signage takes many forms, and is generally designed to provide a level of user interaction by being “triggered” by an event. Think of an iBeacon that sends a coupon to your mobile phone when you walk into your favorite clothing store or displays information about a painting when you hold your smart phone up next to it at the museum. Another example is signage triggered by sensors – when you lift that bottle of Bordeaux at the wine store, perhaps a light sensor is triggered and you see a map and information about the wine on a screen. Or you hold a piece of clothing up to a mirror in the changing room, and its RFID tag triggers signage behind a translucent mirror suggesting other pieces that may go with the skirt. This type of signage is indeed interactive and can be engaging, but the engagement is not always intuitive and there’s typically only one level of engagement between the individual and the signage.

Intelligent Signage

This brings us to a new type of digital signage. What if there was a way to create compelling in-store experiences in which customers could interact with a truly intuitive digital system, perhaps even order products on-screen, while also feeding interaction data back to the retailer or business owner? It is for this use case that intelligent signage, perhaps today’s most cutting-edge technology in retail and digital advertising, was designed.

One of the most interesting of these new systems is Microsoft’s Inception solution, which uses the Microsoft Kinect sensor to detect an individual’s proximity from the sensor, his/her age and gender (using NEC biometric facial recognition technology), and his/her interaction with products on a shelf. Different distances and interactions can trigger different layers of contextual signage, such as static or video advertisement screens, product pricing, technical specs, user reviews from the web and more. The system also records anonymous data such as the demographics and engagement time of individuals with various products, allowing advertisers and business owners to better understand their audience and the effectiveness of their signage.

Intelligent signage systems use advanced yet inexpensive hardware including the Kinect sensor and lightweight PCs such as those embedded in NEC commercial displays, and they can be combined with sensors in the ceiling (in-store heat mapping) or at a point of sale. This solution gives the business owner a broad understanding of how people traverse a particular store or the ages and genders of customers who are buying which products, at which times of day. Intelligent signage systems introduce analytics for the real world, and it’s going to change the way that we experience in-store retail.

But analytics, particularly analytics using Big Data, require more than an intelligent signage system to provide the analytics that will make them most useful to retail companies. One option is using Azure StreamAnalytics. This new offering from Microsoft provides real-time insight into what products are attracting the attention of shoppers, how product interest varies by age and gender, and which displays are attracting the most attention. Stores will be able to tune the shopping experience to maximize sales. Microsoft Azure StreamAnalytics is a new addition to the company’s Azure IoT (Internet of Things) Suite enabling the retail industry to build and deploy IoT solutions to transform the shopping experience and their business model.

What’s Next

With the digital signage market projected to grow a staggering 65% in 2015 alone, it’s more than likely that intelligent signage and audience measurement systems will be arriving soon at a business near you. Overall intelligent signage could lead not only to greater efficiencies in the retail sector, but also far more interesting in-store experiences for shoppers.

Where Can I Test Drive One of These Systems?

The Inception system will be demonstrated at the upcoming Microsoft Build (April 28 – May 1) and Microsoft Ignite (May 4-8) conferences.

No Jitter Interviews Larry Levenberg at Enterprise Connect 2015

In this interview, Larry Levenberg discusses NEC’s presence at Enterprise Connect, the impact of Big Data on companies and NEC’s expertise in Big Data and Analytics as well as where NEC is headed.


Collaborative Education Empowers Young Minds

Few things are more emotional than debate regarding our educational system. Parents want the best for their children, teachers want to provide creativity for their students, and students want to be empowered to be a part of their own learning process, while also having access to the latest tools, technology and information. All this must be wrapped up in a system that ensures learning objectives are met, and students are absorbing information that will prepare them for their next steps in life.

Recently we caught up with Gregory Alvarez, senior manager, Education Vertical Market, for NEC Corporation of America, to learn more about the changing landscape of education and how NEC’s Collaborative Content Management Solution (CCMS) creates solutions to solve challenges in the collaborative education model. Here’s what Gregg had to say:

Q: What are some of the shifts you see in education that are driving the need for new learning solutions?

A: Education is moving more toward a “creator” versus consumption environment. In the past, students were given textbooks. Now, they often consume their assignments on a tablet or laptop, which allows for more elements such as video, presentations, and audio files to be included.

Social interaction is also becoming a large part of the educational experience, particularly since students are so accustomed to using social media to interact with friends. Educational environments are working to provide that same level of interaction via blogs and discussion feeds to keep students more engaged. Furthermore, students can now have access to virtual learning environments, allowing for more progressive learning environments such as flipped classrooms while also supporting learning at home. If students are out of school due to weather, injury or extended illness, they can continue studies with minimal interruption, ensuring they stay abreast of their studies while also keeping them engaged.

Higher education, while ahead of the curve with student technology use (the average college student has three-to-five networked devices), is looking to redesign the classroom and improve students’ interaction. Now these institutions are moving towards work group, project-based learning where students create workgroups and collaborate on class assignments. The goal is to prepare students for today’s work environment where collaboration and teaming are the new norm.

These schools see a need to get students more engaged, as well as provide professors the flexibility to go beyond the core curriculum and expand teaching elements. By providing the flexibility for educators and students to collaborate on learning objectives, everyone has an improved educational experience.

For example, if a teacher is providing a history lesson and students can collaborate on the curriculum by uploading videos from current day events that tie-in with the lesson, then not only are students more engaged, but teachers are able to help them draw conclusions in a real-life manner that was not available before.

Q: What is NEC’s Collaborative Content Management System (CCMS) and how does it support this new educational shift?

A: It is a learning management system (LMS) solution for higher education and K-12 that is powered by the cloud software platform PassTheNotes (PTN).  As a technology leader, NEC takes pride in anticipating market changes and the impact that technology will have on society. NEC recognized that educators were looking for a solution that provided a tool to help faculty expand on course curriculums through the addition of content. This helps engage students in their educational experience with a service and methodology they are most comfortable with (the Internet and social media), giving students the ability to be a part of their educational experience.

Our collaborationwith PTN enables NEC to offer a cloud-based learning management solution that leverages the best of the PTN content management/educational solution with NEC collaboration and communication solutions. PTN is a dynamic, innovative company of veteran educators who understand and process customer feedback to continually improve the offering. We view our working together as a way to improve education for students, thus better serving the community.

The NEC CCMS provides benefits to educators and students they cannot find in other learning management systems today, including:

  • Immediate access via a non-proprietary platform providing technology-agnostic solutions.
  • Single sign-on access with popular applications such as Dropbox or Drive.
  • Collaboration within the platform so students can invite students to create modules for enhanced learning opportunities.
  • Built-in application for taking and hosting notes.
  • Social interaction leveraged via discussion feeds and peer reviews and grading.
  • Seamless integration of additional technology such as unified communications or biometric facial recognition.

Q: What other educational trends are on the horizon?

A: We see a number of trends that are quite interesting, including:

Biometrics and Facial Recognition –While traditionally seen in law enforcement or security, biometrics is making its way into schools and campuses to address specific use cases. The most obvious use case is for security, where facial recognition can capture an image match against a database to determine if the individual belongs on campus.

We’re also seeing more interest is using facial recognition for verification of course completion for accreditation. Facial recognition is being considered as a tool to address attendance taking as well. This becomes a time saving solution in K-12 and for higher ed use to support class attendance requirement for course credit.

Learning analytics is an educational application of “big data,”a method used by business to analyze individual activity. In education, learning analytics is being used with the aim of improving student retention and providing learners with a superior personal experience. Learning analytics uses student data to build better pedagogies, identify at-risk students, and assess whether programs aimed at student retention are successful.

In the future, we see the introduction of other technologies and teaching methodologies that could take hold, such as.

  • 3D printing
  • Gaming and gamification
  • Making online learning more natural

Thanks to Gregg for providing a fascinating overview of current and future educational trends, while explaining how technology provides #SolutionsforSociety in education. You can learn more about NEC’s educational solutions, as well as see demonstrations of other innovative solutions such as unified communications, cloud contact center and SDN by visiting booth 1121 at Enterprise Connect 2015.

 

Photo by NEC Corporation of America on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

What is The Big Picture for Retail? Customer Faces!

Brick-and-mortar retail establishments have fought hard to recover from the consumer transition to online buying. Even standing in the middle of a store aisle, a customer is likely to participate in “show-rooming,” which is to research online and purchase the very item you have right there on your shelf for less money from an online retailer. Fortunately, there are ways retailers can fight back, such as “web-rooming,” where you can enable the customer to find the item online, and then pick it up in your store. But that is barely scratching the surface to what is possible today.

In order to be more effective, as well as improve the customer experience, retailers have moved well beyond the basic point-of-sale into a full ecosystem. In this environment, a retailer can deploy end-to-end solutions that increase revenue while lowering operating costs and improving the customer in-store event. At NEC, we have devised a state-of-the-art retail ecosystem that ensures retailers can complete in today’s online purchasing world. So what is the ecosystem, exactly?

Point of Sale

Of course, point of sale (POS) systems are a given in today’s retail stores, but they don’t have to be the cashier, front-of-store type that we’ve used in the past. Today’s POS embraces the mobile environment, allowing payment via mobile wallets and purchasing applications. In addition, you can run on multi-purpose, smaller devices that are eco-friendly and have a smaller footprint (leaving more room for product merchandising). The smaller all-in-one compact POS terminals, such as the new NEC TWINPOS G5, are so easy to use and feature high-resolution displays and better processing power.

Mobility / Cloud

As we have already discussed in previous posts, customers will engage in show-rooming to look up reviews, price points and shop for better deals. In addition, consumers have become less patient, not willing to wait in line to purchase when they know they can order a comparable or even that exact product online at the click of a button. Ideally, your sales team has the ability to provide check-out services from the floor with mobile devices, ensuring that lines aren’t a hindrance and that the customer is served immediately. NEC’s Stanchion® integrated retail solution combines software, hardware and services to effectively improve the POS system and provide mobility solutions.

Back Office

It would not be an ecosystem if the store operations were not included. That is why NEC’s solution includes back office in the mix. By adding the ability for sales teams to access inventory information on the fly, customers are served more efficiently. Data integration is critical to giving the best information to the customer and keeping the sale. Using NEC retail software, you can now optimize data management so you gain access to information from warehouse to shelf. This level of data management improves loyalty programs as well as retains sales, all at the touch of a button.

Life-Cycle Management

Consumers live in real-time, and expect that information they receive from your own online channels is up-to-date and true. If a customer enters your store expecting to find a product listed on your website, but instead learns that product is out-of-stock, then that customer is frustrated and may not give you a second chance. The reality is that customers expect a fully-integrated online and offline experience, and if you do not provide one, they will find a retailer that does. They are looking for seamless experiences, which require you to have seamless integration for full life-cycle management.
NEC has a fully integrated solution that improves shopping experiences so you can get more satisfied customers and improve your bottom line.

The Big Picture

The NEC Retail Ecosystem puts you on the right road to great customer experience, and improved bottom line. That’s powerful, but can’t be the end. After all, technology consistently changes and as a partner to retail chains, we believe in supporting you through the next wave of technology. So what is that next piece to put you in front of the competition?

Biometrics!

We recognize the power of face recognition in loyalty programs, security, and overall improved shopping experiences. That is why NEC has developed solutions that integrate biometrics into the retail experience. With the NeoFace® Watch system, which uses proprietary face recognition technology, retailers can identify individuals such as VIP shoppers or loyalty club members, as well as track buyer activities at retail displays and capture demographic data on shoppers – the next game changer.

Come visit us at the NRF Big Show at Booth #3653. You can see the ecosystem first hand, and experience the power of facial recognition and take a peek at new retail solutions.  Make plans to also stop by booth 2803 to learn about NEC’s collaboration with Microsoft on an exciting new retail signage solution that combines NEC face recognition technology with Microsoft’s Kinect camera system to create a next-generation shopping experience. The solution serves up digital retail signage based upon an individual’s age and gender, and archives in-store demographic and engagement data in the cloud for later analysis by the retailer. This solution will be demonstrated in Microsoft’s booth during the NRF event.

And while you’re at NRF 15, we invite you to take part in our #BigPicture Twitter contest. Simply take a selfie in front of the NEC signage at the expo entrance and Tweet “I was @NEC#Big Picture” for a chance to win up to $500. Full contest rules available here.

The Big Picture puts a face on your customer. See how you can make that happen by visiting us at Booth #3653!

TechKnowledge: The Best of 2014

As we look back at 2014 to prepare for 2015, we thought it would be great to provide you with some of the best tips from our NEC Today series. So sit back, relax and prepare to be informed!

MOBILITY – COMMUNICATION

Creating a strong mobile platform provides flexibility for your workforce, but must remain secure in order to protect company assets. Take a look at these posts on the subject:

  1. Get the Best of All Worlds with In-Store Mobile
  2. How to Stay ‘Mobile’ during a severe Weather Event
  3. Healthcare Innovation for Improved Patient Experience
  4. Under the Sea…with Internet?

SDN

Software-defined networking supports business agility through architecture that is dynamic, manageable, and adaptable. Are your ready for some transformative technology?

  1. Is Your Company Seeking Business Agility? Uncovering the Business Value of SDN
  2. NEC Teams with Microsoft for flexible, open, standards-based SDN for the cloud

BIG DATA

A critical component and potential differentiator for businesses going forward, big data and analytics are showing up in every industry and business type, as you can see in the posts referenced below:

  1. Big Data to the Rescue!
  2. Armchair Quarterbacks Rejoice! Big Data is in the Game!

IERS

Our guest blogger, Matt Sarrel, provided us with many good posts on InfoFrame Elastic Relational Store, so if you are in need of information on high-performance databases building for high availability and flexible scalability, look no further! Here is a sampling:

  1. An Introduction to IERS and NoSQL/NewSQL
  2. An Interview with Atsushi Kitazawa of NEC Japan, the “Father” of IERS
  3. IERS is Built for Elasticity

We hope you enjoyed some of our best posts from 2014. We look forward to providing more compelling information in 2015, so check back regularly to see what’s going on with NECToday!