Retail Customer Experience.com has a new article by Graeme Spicer entitled “Digital Displays in Retail Environments Coming of Age”. The article talks about Walmarts recently refreshed in-store video network (aka Smart Network) and shares some data on the success of advertisements on the network.
I’ve seen similar Walmart data before, but always in private meetings, so now that the data is public I can comment… Here is why you shouldn’t believe it.
Contrary to Spicer’s article, Digital Merchandising is already widely used in retail merchandising. But the majority of deployments are NOT delivering paid ads. The video based displays are used to enhance shopping experiences, communicate complicated value propositions, and drive incremental sales.
Retailers make money by selling products and services for a profit. Not by capturing an audience to deliver paid advertisements to. Yes, retailers do try and get their supply chain partners to share in the cost of operating the store through the use of co-op advertising, slotting fees, merchandising accrual systems, etc… But at the end of the day, retailers don’t want promotions that merely shift sales from one brand to another, they want great experiences that drive incremental sales.
Walmart has a major initiative underway called Project Impact. The goals are to focus on the most strategic product categories and reduce their efforts in less important ones. They are also trying to dramatically reduce store clutter, and improve the shopping experience. Project Impact is being implemented in the form of major remodels to 1000’s of stores.
Because of Project Impact, there is now less shelf space and fewer promotional opportunities available to non-strategic brands. If you’re one of these brands, you are at risk for getting a smaller piece of the pie.
So because Walmart is offering viewer promotional opportunities, won’t they generate less co-op dollars? Not if they charge more for each opportunity… and that’s where the Walmart Smart Network (aka Walmart TV 2.0) comes in!
For the brands that still have shelf space at Walmart, you can now buy a promotional slot on the Smart Network (that includes promotional content on a digital merchandising system and premium product placement on a Walmart endcap).
The Walmart Smart Network actually has three different types of digital signage.
Walmart has a team of people that sell these new SmartNetwork promotional opportunities and they are more expensive than brands are accustomed to paying for in-store co-op. Those Ad-Sales people need to demonstrate a good return on investment for the brands. And that’s why Walmart has published data on the efficacy of the SmartNetwork, to sell ads, not out of some sort of altruistic gift to the digital signage community.
Walmart hired Candance Adams a very credible Customer Insight exec with a PhD, and she partnered with DS-IQ which is full of ex-Microsoft rocket-scientists. So I’m sure the research methodology is very legitimate. But here is the rub… the raw data get’s interpreted by people tasked with ad sales, and it’s there output that Walmart publishes (don’t we all know better than to trust ad men?).
So when Walmart says that a food item that buys a spot on their network get’s a 13 percent lift in sales, or a health/beauty product gets a 28 percent. What they don’t point out is that in their program is not just a spot on a digital sign, but also a product placement on a scarce end-cap! How much of that 28% lift is a result of the end-cap vs. the digital component? Walmart doesn’t say and there is no (published) DS-IQ study on the sales lift of the end-cap w/o the sign. When the SmartNetwork was launched, Stephen Quinn the CMO at Walmart said the goal was a 30% lift for the endcap products, which he said would typically result in a 5% lift to the entire category the product was in. As you can see, Walmart now says that even the most successful product is not achieving that goal. Further, Walmart doesn’t even try to claim to that the Category signs or the Welcome sign have a measurable effect on sales of a particular product.
The bottom line is that the Smart Network is all about keeping Walmart’s co-op revenue flowing in, while reducing the visual clutter and making Walmart a more pleasant place to shop. It’s a great strategy for Walmart but it’s far from evidence that digital signage advertisements drive retail sales.
I’d love to hear from Brand Managers that have bought into the program (even privately). What are you’re thoughts?
Update: It appears Walmart may be re-thinking project impact. Also, you can find more photo’s at http://photos.retailgeek.wpengine.com/Retail/Project-Impact/.