Out of the box

Written by Alokananda Chakraborty | Updated: Feb 5 2008, 06:46am hrs
One doesnt need to be a rocket scientist to see the benefits to stakeholders. It helps advertisers catch the attention of time-starved-commercial-bludgeoned shoppers at the point of sale. Retailers can keep their captive audiences updated on the latest schemes and promos, and get a halo effect in the bargain as they are likely to be seen as modernised and high-tech. If nothing else, they can also sell airtime for client advertising to monetise the network. Not to forget that it helps shoppers feel connected and, above all, empowered.

Just on the off chance that you are still raking your brains, we are talking about in-store television networks on the lines of Wal-Mart TV, a phenomenon thats fast gaining currency across big retail in India. Though not prodigious by any accountindustry estimates put this year-and-a-half-old industry at Rs 50 crore, with eight to 10 major players flaunting 8,000-odd screens across the countrythe potential is easy to gauge.

In 2007, India topped AT Kearneys annual Global Retail Development Index for the third consecutive year, maintaining its position as the most attractive market for retail investment. At 12 million, India also has one of the largest number of retail outlets in the world. In other words, a prime candidate for precisely this kind of an advertising platform. But remember, by no means does out-of-home television compete with TV as a medium, says Ishan Raina, CEO, Out-of-Home Media, a company which operates in this space. But it helps build the frequency of TV and other forms of advertising because an increasing number of people spending more time out-of-home especially in retail clusters like malls, cafes etc.

The growth projections are sure to draw more players to retail TV. The organised retail market in India is expected to more than double in the next three years to touch $30 billion from $14 billion currently, says a recent FICCI-Ernst & Young report. The report, Winning With Intelligent Supply Chains, says that organised retail, which now accounts for 5% of the $280 billion retail market, will grow to 30% of the total market in the next 10 years.

But does in-store communication with shoppers actually work Statistics show that 60-70% of brand purchase decision happens in store, say experts. And moving messages attract 40% more attention than static signage. Phew some more stats about 78% of retail television viewers say they find it helpful. And 42% of retail TV viewers prefer to shop in a store that has video displays, according to various dipstick studies done by retail managers and their agencies.

Of course, store TV operators warn that the gains may not be quantifiable all the time. Yet, such narrowcast networks remain the best bet for target marketing because the audience is tightly defined by time, place, and activity. The industry is still very young and there is not much hard data to come by, points out PR Satheesh, COO, TAG Media, which operates 650 screens across Spencers, Foodworld, Fabmall, Indiabulls Mart and Trinethra. But various exit interviews done by us show that 50% of the people who made certain purchases saw relevant ads in the stores; again there was another 6% who didnt see the relevant ads before making the purchase. Evidently, the gap is huge and most of the players are still trying to find their way forward. I would say much of the work we did in the first eight-nine months was missionary in nature, so to speak.

Currently, most of these networks play content related to store products and promos as well as stock brand offers. But as the market becomes crowded content differentiation will be key. Says Partho Dasgupta, managing director and CEO, Future Media. Everyone wants a good deal at every rangebe it value for money shopping or at lifestyle shopping. Consumption is also a way of entertainment. Keeping these factors in mind, the content on Future TV is a blend of advertising/promotions, programming and a live element via a news ticker by Times Now. In fact, the programming on Future TV consists of four separate feeds that cater to the four different retail formats of Pantaloon, Big Bazaar/Food Bazaar, Central and HomeTown. While the feed at Pantaloon has more emphasis on lifestyle-based programmes, Big Bazaar lays emphasis on gags and humour-based content, he adds. To engage shoppers, store networks also host interactive contests for their viewers. Future TV, for example, has hosted contests such as Future Cup contest and Future TV Box Office that have gained tremendous response and have started building loyalty, according to the company.

Of course, things are not as hunky dory as everyone in the business would like it to be. People are installing screens at the wrong places, not investing enough in content and since its a young medium we run the risk of becoming a potentially good option versus actually becoming one, says Gaurang Shah, CEO & founder, Digital Signage Networks India. Yet he is optimistic. These are time-bound issues that will be addressed by the stronger players, he adds.

The moot question is: is store networks part of the media planners agenda yet Not at the moment. To be honest, most people still havent got a hang of this medium, confesses Deepak Deejay Jayaram, national director, Dialect, a GroupM specialist unit. Puni-tha Arumugam, CEO, Madison Media Group, is more cautious when she says, Its an emerging medium and most retailers and advertisers are still exploring how to use it to maximise RoI. It should be used tactically to influence shop-floor behaviour rather than as a strategic brand-building tool.

According to Deejay, much of the communication on store networks now is driven by the advertisers and retailers. Media planners are always one step behind (the advertisers and media owners). Only when advertisers, as a matter of policy, set aside a portion of their budgets for advertising over store networks will agencies begin to have a point of view, he says.

All said, while such moment of truth advertising can swing consumer opinion one way or the other, store networks cant be the solution to all of a retailers woes. Thats not to say its not being sold as such...