How network audio supports retailers – today and tomorrow

Louise Hobroh

Faced with a challenging retail landscape, providing a superior customer experience is key to attracting shoppers. I’ve seen that retailers can directly influence this by changing different aspects of the store environment, such as the display areas, layouts and adding services.

Although often overlooked, audio plays a critical role here; not only in creating the right atmosphere with background music, but as a useful means of communicating to shoppers and employees – quickly, clearly and sometimes automatically. Whether audio is used for marketing and operations or safety and security (like in-store promotions, managing staffing levels, deterring potential offenders or providing safety information), audio capabilities are versatile and can be utilized depending on the needs of the retailer.

Network audio shapes the customer experience

Delivering the type of experience that will encourage repeat custom is directly related to the attention shoppers receive while in store. If the retailer is given the time and opportunity to understand the customer’s needs, this increases the likelihood of a completed sale. From my own shopping experience, I know that if I can get quick and qualitative support, I will definitely complete my purchase and maybe buy even more than I initially planned. However, if I don’t find what I am looking for soon enough, I might skip the purchase instead of browsing further.

Can technology help in this situation? While getting shoppers in the door is one part of the equation, increasing dwell time is critical. Network audio solutions can create a calming and welcoming atmosphere which encourages shoppers to browse, by providing background music at the right volume and quality, in the right place. And smart audio solutions can also take care of tasks normally done by staff to free up time. For example, if I’m spending more time in a specific area, staff can be alerted by an intelligent system to come and meet my needs. At the same time, a voice message can be shared to let me know that help is on the way.

Relevant promotions and updates can be communicated using reliable, high quality audio, to help customers make a purchasing decision or alert them to great deals and offers. These can be tailored to different areas of the stores and shared when the customer enters specific zones. Another component of a good customer experience is comfort and safety. Shoppers have increasing concerns regarding regulations around hygiene and social distancing. Pre-recorded or live announcements can help reinforce the retailer’s commitment to compliance in a safe and efficient way and put shoppers’ minds at ease.

Supporting safety and security in the right way

Alongside customers, employees also have concerns regarding their welfare. While retailers may be keen to drive and maintain footfall, this must be balanced with occupancy control to help comply with social distancing regulations. To supplement people counting technology, audio messages can alert shoppers to when the store is reaching capacity and share reminders to practice good hygiene. This helps keep staff and customers safe, while increasing their comfort in store.

This reflects my own experience, as I’ve noticed that shoppers tend to be more aware when the store becomes busier, as this impacts the ability to socially distance. Recent research suggests that limiting capacity may continue long term. In fact, a study from GFK found that 72% of shoppers(1) in Italy valued a limited number of customers in stores long .

Although health concerns may be front of mind, maintaining good levels of security is also a key priority. By complementing video installations with voice messages, it is clear that audio plays an important role in deterring potential vandals or thieves, by playing warnings or reminders of measures that protect products and staff. These clips can be tailored to suit the particular situation. Retailers also monitor areas outside of stores and can share alerts with staff or security operators if there are people loitering or gathering after opening hours. Actions can then be taken to address suspicious behaviour.

Why choose an intelligent network audio system?

So, how does network audio differ from regular audio systems? I turned to Carina Rietz, Solution Marketing Manager at Axis to get a deeper understanding.

“One system can be used to support security and safety, handle pre-recorded and live announcements and play background music, compared to managing separate systems. This also means that there are few points of potential failure.”

Carina continued, “Lengthy and complicated installation can also be avoided, as these all-in-one solutions are pre-configured to work right out of the box, without extra hardware – such as the amplifier and signal processor Audio management software is also built in to support functionalities, such as zone and content management and scheduling. This also removes the need for separate equipment, meaning that the entire solution takes up less physical space, allowing retailers to better optimize the store interior.”

Retailers should prioritise choosing solutions that connect to the standard network and plug into the existing infrastructure, rather than needing separate, dedicated audio cabling. This, together with intelligence at the edge, provides many benefits, such as remote health monitoring to ensure the audio system is working well, without the need to go on site.

Focus on future-proofed solutions

As customer and market needs change, stores may need to be adapted in terms of size and layout. It’s important to have systems in place which are flexible and easily tailored to meet demands. Adaptability gives retailers longevity and the technology used must support this. Network solutions based on open standards provide an advantage, as the open API enables easy integration with other systems and future applications. These include VMS, analytics, VoIP/PBX systems and SIP protocol. This enables retailers to take advantage of new technologies and capabilities as needed, even at scale.

Stores are continuously changing the internal layouts to meet customer needs and the zones, content or scheduling can be updated remotely using the software. This saves time and money by avoiding site visits.

As the use cases increase, retailers will look to incorporate audio to improve different parts of the business. Choosing a network solution that offers flexibility in the first instance, will ensure that retailers are best positioned to react quickly, ultimately future-proofing the in-store experience and improving security.

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Reference: (1) GfK Shopper Navigator – Navigating to the New Normal in FMCG, Excerpt of the Adaptation Phase Reports from DE, SE, IT (October 2020)