AV Technology set to level the playing fields

The rapidly-evolving digital revolution continues to change the way that people interact with the world on every level. In no space is this more apparent than in the retail sector, where the emergence of online shopping has forever changed the way that goods are bought and sold. In this highly competitive market, audiovisual and integrated technologies are increasingly bridging the divide between the virtual and physical shopping experience for retailers and consumers across the world.   


Over the past two decades, the emergence of online shopping has changed the role that physical retail outlets play in the consumer market. In the past, consumers had no choice but to visit shopping centres to purchase goods, and retailers have built their marketing strategies around the assumption that people will always arrive to shop.

All this changed in 1994, when entrepreneur and innovator Jeff Bezos launched Amazon Inc. At the time, the internet had only been publicly available for about four years, and the concept of e-commerce was in its infancy. However, in line with Bezos’s prediction, e-commerce quickly emerged as the most ground-breaking disruptor in the retail sector since the introduction of mass production in the 19th Century.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon Inc. currently boasts a market value of just under a trillion US dollars and is set to generate more than $259 billion in US retail e-commerce sales this year alone. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, American consumers spent approximately $514 billion online in 2018, up 14.2% from 2017, and these figures are projected to grow exponentially over the next five years.

While the e-commerce market in South Africa remains well behind some of the more developed economies, it is quickly gaining traction. According to the findings of World Wide Worx’s Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, online retail represented 1.4% of total retail sales in 2018, surpassing the R14-billion mark for the first time. One of the driving factors behind the growth in online shopping is the rapid rate at which South African’s internet user base is expanding. In the year 2000, approximately 2.4 million South Africans had access to the internet. Over the past 19 years, this number has expanded to include more than 30 million internet users in South Africa and continues to grow. As a result, more people can shop online, and South Africa’s traditional retail market is starting to feel the pinch. 


If you have ever opened your internet browser and seen an advert that makes you suspect that Google is listening in on your conversations, you have felt the power of targeted marketing. Online retailers have a massive advantage over their brick-and-mortar competitors. Thanks to the power of social media, advanced data analytics and digital profiling, Amazon knows a customer’s biometrics, shopping history, hobbies and interests the moment that they log into their Amazon accounts. The company then uses this data to present its customers with products and services that they know will fit their personal needs.

Targeted marketing enables online retailers to analyse their customer base and sell products and services directly to the consumer. This ability goes far beyond simple biometrics such as age, gender and location. Consumers routinely divulge very personal and specific information about their habits, preferences, travel plans, hobbies and interests on social media, all of which is analysed in real-time to ensure that the products displayed online are aligned perfectly with the customer’s immediate needs.

Traditional retailers still rely on old-school marketing techniques, such as baiting customers to walk through their stores to find high-demand products or placing products in positions that support impulse purchasing. These strategies are very hit-and-miss, and most consumers are wise to these tactics, which makes them less effective. In light of the highly advanced and accurate targeted marketing strategies used by online retailers, physical retail outlets are under increasing pressure to find innovative ways to compete.


In response to the pressure applied by the e-commerce market, future-focused physical retailers are turning to AV integrators to design, specify and install the technology needed to bring shoppers back to physical malls.

The first consideration that needs to be addressed is attracting shoppers back into shopping centres. In the past, centre management would secure an anchor tenant in the form of a high-profile department store to draw people to the centre. Smaller retailers were then offered rental space around the anchor tenant, who would then be able to take advantage of the foot traffic created. However, the drawing power of anchor tenants has been significantly diluted by online shopping options.

In response, property management companies and retailers are increasingly investing in shoppertainment facilities, such as cinemas, theatres, musical displays, digital showrooms and arcades to serve as drawcards.  An example of the shift in focus can be seen at the recently re-launched Fourways Mall in Johannesburg.

According to Accelerate Properties, “The Fourways Mall will be differentiated by its focus on shoppertainment, offering entertainment, convenience and a unique experience aimed at the whole family that enhances the shopping environment for all.”

Embattled retail giant, Edcon, has used the opportunity presented by the re-launch of Fourways Mall to launch its new “Edgars Experience Store.” The flagship department store is designed to provide consumers with a fully immersive shopping experience. The idea is to enhance opportunities presented by the physical environment that cannot be offered online – including personal shoppers on the floor, spaces that encourage social engagement and installations that are intended to entertain consumers while they shop.

“Internationally, retailers are purposefully rewiring themselves in the ever-evolving retail landscape to enable the ‘experience economy’. Retail isn’t dead, only boring retail is dead. To thrive in a time where customers can do anything, anywhere and get personalised real-time experiences both online and in real life, big retailers need to make the shift,” said Edgars in a recent press statement.

Retailers are also trying to integrate the online shopping experience with store visits, drawing online shoppers back into stores. “Shoppers can now shop online or on their mobile devices, choose a store for delivery and collect their order at no additional cost. This online service is now available at the new Edgars in Fourways Mall.”

Many shoppertainment attractions rely on the professional AV industry to design, install and manage integrated audiovisual systems, creating new opportunities for AV installers. While these strategies do contribute towards supporting the brick-and-mortar retail market, they do not surpass (or even match) the enormous edge that targeted marketing gives those in the e-commerce space.

Fortunately for those in the property management business, AV technology also holds the keys to targeted marketing in the physical environment, providing the opportunity to truly level the playing field.


As retailers across the world take down their printed posters, pull-up banners and lightboxes and replace them with digital signage solutions, technology is starting to gain a strong foothold in the traditional retail environment.

By deploying audiovisual and integrated technologies in physical retail outlets, stores are able to introduce biometry, artificial intelligence, facial recognition technology and data analytics to the physical shopping experience, thus diluting the advantage that e-commerce currently enjoys.

Fast-evolving Smart Digital Signage technologies incorporate facial recognition, data analytics software and artificial intelligence to make digital displays able to respond much like an online retail store. As a customer approaches a display, facial recognition sensors are able to identify the person and link them with their digital footprint, including social media accounts and purchasing history. The display will then automatically show content that is targeted at the individual looking at the screen. Should the person’s eye contact with the display waver, different and more engaging content can be displayed, or the screen can target a new customer who wanders into view.

The capabilities of Smart Digital Signage in the physical retail sector go far beyond targeted marketing. Facial recognition technologies in stores can also be used to improve in-store security, as shoplifters caught on camera can instantly be identified and prosecuted. Shop management can also use their AV assets to analyse the way that people move through their stores, where marketing material is most successful and where, in the physical environment, sales are highest.  As a result, stores can be designed and redesigned based on data rather than on assumptions, leading to improved sales rates. The possibilities are endless, and the technology already exists. There is little doubt that the digital revolution is changing the way that world economies work, often at a pace that threatens to leave businesses that cling to traditional models out in the cold. Fortunately, while technologies that push the boundaries of what we thought was possible as little as a decade ago are being developed, there are also solutions being created that are designed to marry the old and the new in interesting and ever-more profitable ways. The advancements in AV technology designed for the retail sector are just such solutions and promise to open a whole new world of experience-based shopping for the modern consumer.