The ins and outs of using LED digital screens in retail environments

While digital screens were once only found in the retail outlets of luxury brands and in flagship stores, they are now commonplace in almost every shop on the high street.  And LED is the digital display technology that every retailer wants in their store.  But why are LED displays so popular, how are retailers using them and what are the cost considerations of using these displays in shopping environments?  Here’s what retailers need to know about this popular technology.

LED technology is suited to retailers needs

LED screens are ideally suited to the retail environment.  Unlike LCD and other large format displays they can be used to create uninterrupted images of almost any shape or size to grab shoppers’ attention and drive footfall into stores.  The brightness of the panels makes them just as effective in the shop window as they are at point of sale and their availability in a range or resolutions means they can be used for a variety of purposes – from delivering detailed advertising video to ambient graphic images.  Finally, because they’re modular, if something goes wrong you only need to replace a panel rather than the entire display – which can easily be done outside of retail trading times.

Faulty panels can be replaced easily

LED screens are aspirational

Like many popular things, the appeal of LED screens started with luxury brands.  Several years ago, only outlets like Louis Vuitton and Burberry could afford the high cost of LED displays, but recently the cost of this technology has dropped and the market has grown as less affluent brands aspire to create a high-end shopping experience.  Because retail is such a competitive environment, one retailer’s adoption of LED technology often results in others following suit as there is pressure to “keep up with the Joneses.”

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

LEDs can help brick and mortar stores compete with online retailers

Brick and mortar stores realise that, in order to compete with online retailers, they need to entice shoppers away from their computers and into outlets.  Technology like LED displays are valuable tools for improving the in-store experience because they are versatile and easy to update.

Choosing the right LED for different retail requirements

One of the biggest decisions you need to make when choosing an LED display is the pixel pitch of the panels (or the distance between the LED chips) which directly affects the resolution of the screen.  A finer pixel pitch provides a higher resolution but is also more expensive and isn’t always necessary depending on where you intend to use the displays and what content you plan on showing.

Fine pixel pitch provides high-resolution capability

Outdoor displays

Shopping centres might use outdoor displays to attract attention from passing traffic, promote brands and in-store offers or provide wayfinding information. Outdoor LED’s are relatively expensive but, because these screens are generally viewed from quite a distance, a courser pixel pitch can be used, which brings down the cost.

Outdoor displays are ideal for wayfinding

Window displays

The stereotypical shop window displays with mannequin-models and static props are being replaced by digital displays that attract attention with moving images that are quick and easy to change – allowing retailers to update their display at the click of a button.

Photo-by-Daniel-von-Appen-on Unsplash

LED displays are particularly effective in shop windows because their picture quality isn’t affected by bright ambient light.  The choice of LED for window displays should be based on the content that will be shown – with an audience as close as two meters from the screen, you’ll want a high-resolution display for video ads and promotional content, but a low-resolution screen might suffice for showing ambient graphics.

Transparent window displays attract attention without blocking views or light

Transparent LEDs have become very popular in shop window displays because passers-by can see through the content into the store and light also flows through the display into the shop.

However, because these displays are made of transparent strips embedded with LED, and you’re effectively looking through the gaps between the LED clusters, they are only available in coarser pixel pitch ranges which makes them more suited to less detailed content.

Traditional displays take up valuable floorspace

Digital displays on structural elements

Photo by Andre Tan on Unsplash

Every square metre of floorspace has to earn its keep in a retail environment.  Taking up usable shop space with promotional displays costs money in lost revenue, which is why many retailers are replacing traditional product displays with LED displays that are integrated into the structure of the store.

For example, LED panels might be wrapped around structural columns, installed on bulkheads above escalators or on the walls alongside them.  Because LED displays are modular, they can be built to fit the exact size of the space available, from floor to ceiling, and even around corners, providing a highly-visible and effective canvas that doesn’t take up any floorspace.  Once again, the cost of these displays depends on whether you need high resolution screens for advertising content or whether low-resolution will suffice for ambient graphics.

Point of sale displays

POS displays have a captive audience

Point of sale displays benefit from a captive audience of shoppers waiting to pay and showing promotions and advertisements here is an effective way to increase sales.

This content, and the proximity of the audience, means that more expensive, high resolution screens are often required for cash register displays.  Fitting LED displays at the point of sale, which is traditionally at the back of the store, also completes the digital experience throughout the shop.

What other things influence the total cost of LED?

There are factors beyond the pixel pitch, size and type of LED display that contribute to the total cost of using these digital screens in retail environments.  Retailers should ensure that they’ve factored in the following “hidden costs” as part of their project budget and plan.

The total cost of LED includes more than the cost of the display

Content production costs

The resolution, size and shape of your screen will dictate what content can be shown on this display.  If you’re putting a 4K (or 8K) screen in your store, then you’re going to have to source or create content at this resolution.  Similarly, your TV ad won’t be effective on a screen wrapped around a column because the images will either be cropped or won’t fill the display.  Content should also be refreshed regularly, so you’ll need to budget for ongoing production costs.

Content management

Who is responsible for content management?

Consider who will be responsible for creating playlists and loading the content onto the system and what supporting technologies you’ll use to distribute this content. Some organisations choose to create the content at head office and either send pen drives to individual stores or run cloud-based content management systems to automatically update content across the brand.  Others allow each store to manage their own content on local servers.

Either way, you’ll need to make sure someone has the capacity for this task and that content management systems are put in place.

Power and cooling

While most LED installations won’t have a major impact on power consumption and cooling, big slabs of high resolution LED displays will increase your electricity bill and, because they’re heat generating products, you may need to increase your air conditioning capacity to counter their effect.

While LED displays have become more affordable as they’ve grown in popularity, for most retailers they are still a big investment.  Get in touch with Anna Valley if you need help or advice on choosing and installing the best solution for your retail environment.