Digitally Delicious

Retailers adopt digital menu signage, letting them adjust price, menu items and more on the fly.

By  Abbey Lewis, Executive Editor

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For those who decide to go with a more turnkey solution, the initial cost could be more than doing it themselves, but experts believe the ROI is considerable.

According to Ventura of NEC Display Solutions, digital menu boards provide some obvious savings in printing costs, cross-promotional advantages and physical impact, but they also reduce time to market promotions and product.

“Focus needs to be first on ROO (return on objective),” Ventura says. “Before you can decide ROI, you need to establish what your objectives are for the pilot or rollout, as well as your one-, three-, five-year plan.”

And accept that not every promotion or every application may fly with your customers. “Making sure to remember that use can and will change over time due to lessons you learn, as well as the different strategies you want to implement,” he says. “Once this is understood, then look at your hard and soft costs in order to establish an ROI line.”

Zaremba agrees that nailing down ROI is impossible when messaging and branding is involved: “ROI is a relative term. When you’re talking about media inside the store, it’s just a crisp, clean professional look that we can manipulate to look however we want. Having the ability to change things is huge. All of a sudden that next idea comes, and we can change [the displays] in 2 minutes.”

According to Zaremba, Zarco routinely changes its promotional items weekly on the rolling digital display screens. And on the still portion of the menu boards, he updates pricing on a monthly basis.

Edge of Innovation

Despite the obvious advantages of digital display technology, there is still some reluctance in the industry to adopt a measureable, widespread use of the menus. Whether it’s upfront cost, or concerns regarding maintenance, the industry is still a long way from saturation, NEC’s Ventura says.

“We are at the tipping point right now. The next step is outdoor menu boards and full integration of mobility and things like augmented reality,” he says. “Also, taking the content and information and getting it to the table is being discussed. The use of tablets and other similar mobile technologies will have more impact.”

Some retailers have used digital technology elsewhere in their stores for years but haven’t made the leap to digital menu boards. Scott Hartman, president and CEO of Rutter’s Farm Stores, York, Pa., says his company has had digital kiosks for marketing purposes for about 10 years, but stores don’t yet have electronic menu boards in place. He estimates the kiosks alone have contributed a 20% increase in sales.

“We continue to explore [digital menu boards] as an addition to our current signage. We currently use kiosks, which are our primary way to inform customers of our offers during the ordering process,” he says. “We also have TVs in some of our stores’ restaurant areas, which provide information about new food items.”

Rutter’s controls its digital messaging from a central office, the same way Nice N Easy does. Its marketing team is behind the controls. For Nice N Easy, it’s as easy as updating a PowerPoint file, which is then directly uploaded. Nice N Easy’s MacDougall also programmed the system to send him a text message each morning to indicate that all displays are online and operational.

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