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The touch-free future of interactivity in retail


What’s old is new again, at least as it relates to interactive digital signage in retail.


Years ago, when touch screen interactivity approached mainstream adoption in retail, customers were adapting to a new workflow. The progression of customers understanding, trusting and ultimately using touch-interactive signage took time. After all, retailers were resetting shopping behaviour that had been in place for many years. But over time customers became much more accustomed to pressing physical buttons and engaging with touch-interactive displays to navigate on-screen content.


Fast-forward to retail’s current pandemic recovery effort and we’re at a similar crossroads. Masked-up shoppers are more careful than ever, taking steps to avoid touching surfaces unnecessarily. How ironic that the interactive shopping experience we pushed for so many years is now something shoppers have been trained to avoid out of concern for their health.


Of course the solution is not to abandon interactivity altogether – we must instead adapt to this new reality. Fortunately for our industry, and for the greater retail ecosystem, the technology still exists to create rewarding interactive experiences in store, and is constantly adapting in response to the ‘new normal.’ Here, self-service kiosks really do represent the customer service future, providing businesses with a smooth, effective, and sanitised method of interaction.


Having already made their mark in supermarkets and airports, the coronavirus crisis has brought the benefits of kiosks to even more sectors, such as restaurants and pharmacies. The obvious advantage to installing kiosks at this time is the opportunity to reduce face-to-face contact within an establishment, creating a safer environment for both staff and customers. The kiosk devices themselves can be effectively sanitised. Plastic barriers, such as Plexiglas, can be installed between multiple devices and the kiosk screens can be effectively cleaned and wiped down between each use. However, the benefits don’t stop there. Mobile technology has advanced further to make these devices even safer. Guests can place orders or conduct transactions through their mobile devices using QR codes on the kiosk, reducing the need for face-to-face contact even further and enabling the customer to use a device that they can be reassured no-one else has touched. 


The benefits of kiosks have been made even simpler to attain by the availability of kiosk project-management teams who can take the stress out of the installation by sourcing the right technology and managing logistics and maintenance of the devices. These teams tailor kiosk solutions to the business’s demands, such as the need for weather-proof devices, kiosks with tamper-proof security defences, or kiosks that accommodate customers with accessibility needs.


Not long after COVID-19 came onto the scene, we fast-tracked developer support of these new interfaces that use BrightSign media players to enable interactivity via buttons and sensors that don’t require physical touch. Many of these solutions are achieved with a simple retrofit of the existing displays, enabling touchless interactivity and protecting the investment of the overall installation. The response has been strong. Here are a few examples of how our partners are integrating touchless interactivity into their kiosk solutions. 


Helping customers safely operate their businesses in the face of new COVID-19 health regulations was key to a new Safe Space solution from Legrand | AV in partnership with BrightSign and InReality. By pairing the latest temperature-screening and occupancy-monitoring technology with newly developed tablet series mounts (with floor-standing or tabletop infrastructure solutions), businesses can access a wide range of all-in-one solutions built on the industry’s most robust, enterprise-ready Safe Space platform. From temperature screening to occupancy monitoring, whether at a single location or thousands of locations, InReality’s advanced software platform and suite of connected solutions automate safe access and will bring peace of mind to any business.


Audio Authority’s Ascentic Retail Engineering business has just introduced a family of AirSelect Touchless Sensors. The AirSelect proximity sensors are easily integrated into existing displays – which is great because retailers don’t have to replace existing display hardware. Each proximity sensor acts as a direct replacement for standard 19mm pushbuttons, providing touch-free button engagement. These sensors engage based on the proximity of a customer’s hand, with indicator lights that illuminate, providing important visual feedback to help guide the customer engagement process. Ascentic Retail Engineering’s AirSelect Touchless Sensors are also available with gesture capability, which interprets additional movements of a customer’s hand. The devices can be used as product selectors and as volume controllers, making them an ideal solution for demonstrating consumer electronics products.


Our friends at Bluefin developed a great solution for customers using Bluefin’s screens with BrightSign Built-In. These short-range motion sensors also fit the 19mm form factor and can be arranged in a GPIO assembly with one, two, three or four buttons. The buttons activate via short-range motion sensors that engage when someone gets within two inches of the sensors. This solution is especially affordable and easy to set up because there’s no additional controller to connect – simply plug directly into the GPIO port to take full advantage of Bluefin’s touchless button capabilities.


Finally, Nexmosphere’s EF Series sensors feature AirTouch and AirGesture, which enable the capture of a number of different customer interactions. The EF Series is powered by a thin, flat antenna that can be hidden away underneath a pane of acrylic glass. Once installed, the sensors can function both as touchless buttons, as well as interpret left, right, up and down swiping motions. The sensors also support synchronisation with LED strip lighting to indicate direction, helping to create an even more immersive interactive experience.


To be clear, there will be a customer-behaviour learning curve to overcome with these new solutions, similar to what we experienced when touch interactivity first came onto the scene years ago. But this evolution is born of necessity and I suspect customers will welcome the ability to re-introduce interactivity into the shopping experience without the need for physical interaction. Furthermore, the visible presence of sanitisation methods and Plexiglas dividers around these devices will hopefully reassure customers that these kiosks are here to help them stay safe. Adoption of touchless interactivity may have been accelerated due to COVID-19, but even after the urgency of the pandemic fades, these new technologies will be here to stay.

by Jeff Hastings, CEO, BrightSign

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