digital wellbeing labs

we tune technology to create harmony in your life

Is anybody watching out there? – part 2



In recent months two large European retailers announced that they were to close down extensive digital signage networks across hundreds of shops. What has happened to this much anticipated technology and what was the outcome of the initial marketing drive?We put together 2 use cases of Karstadt in Germany and Tesco in the UK:

Use case Karstadt Instore TV

September 2007: Karstadt press release  and   Karstadt Does Digital Signage

The German retailer Karstadt is to install an average of 45 flat screens in 52 of their top stores. If that is the case then 1 million customers could be reached daily…. The retailer plans to invest tens of millions in an “Instore TV” system. All 52 subsidiaries will be equipped with up to 45 big-screen LCD displays on which company products and commercials by partners will be broadcast. Wolf anticipates that the constant stream of multimedia will attract more customers to his stores. He also expects they will stay longer and, naturally, buy more.

March 2008Karstadt Instore-TV mit konzeptionellen Schwächen   (Karstadt Instore-TV with conceptual weak-points) 

In this article the writer describes how a lack of follow through on the promise, breaks the whole experience. Instead of having dedicated messages, based on monthly changing themes, attached to specific location related to a particular product, video clips seem to pop up in random places, or all places simultaneously, eg an ad for Philips LED lamps shows up in the Jeans department. Another example is the lousy placement and integration of the displays in the overall concept of the stores. There is usually some broken monitors somewhere. The length and type of messages contained in the clips. Lack of opportunity to sit down and “consume” some of the messages. In fact he notes, he seems to be the only one watching. 

September 2008Karstadt legt Instore-TV auf Eis (Karstadt puts Instore-TV on ice)

The article notes that the Instore-TV had aimed to promote lifestyle messages directly at the Point of Sale. The idea was to combine information produced by the brands related to the products on display and combine these with regularly changing in-house themes. 8 million Euro had been invested so far with an estimated return of 40 million Euro.

resume: from the outside it looks like a case of bad management communication across different layers within the organisation that led to not getting buy in from all parties involved and resulted in a confused implementation.

… and another use case Tesco:  Tesco TV later renamed Tesco Screens

March 2004Tesco TV launches adverts as you shop (source:

… Tesco TV will be available in 300 of the company’s 850 stores by the end of this year. Around 50 screens will be fitted in each of these shops in a move that will cost about £20m … A whole new channel, called Tesco TV, will provide consumers with the company’s own promotional material, as well as advertising from third parties, such as shampoo or petfood suppliers … The channel will also offer shoppers “helpful hints” on things like foods recipes and babycare, as well as news and weather updates. The television sets in a particular aisle will show material of relevance to the products available in that part of the store …

March 2004Small screen, big profits? Tesco leads the in-store revolution  (source

… With the roll-out of its in-store television system this month, Tesco is hoping to circumvent the time lag and memory lapse problem by hitting up consumers right at point of sale…

… The screens will be in “zoned areas”: a power aisle (the central aisle from which all other aisles are accessed); the grocery aisle; health and beauty; beer, wine and spirits; home entertainment; counters (for instance the delicatessen); and the café. Each TV will show information that is directly related to the products in its area…

At  the time, the first sceptical voices were noticed: … you simply can’t just put up a screen anywhere and expect consumers to engage or advertisers to advertise … “You have to have a very well thought- out client strategy … “I’m very worried when I see new companies within the market putting up screens and not thinking if they are reaching the right target audience.” …

January 2006Tesco in-store TV falters over lack of advertisers (source )

… Major advertisers are understood to be unhappy about the network and have cited the placement and intrusive nature of screens as problems to be addressed … The original intention was for Tesco TV to divert revenue from TV advertising. But its sales house, JCDecaux, was forced to slash its rate card by 30% in early 2005 following poor take-up…

January 2006 Tesco’s digital signage advertising network may be struggling (source: wirespring)

An excellent article analysing the Brand Republic notes.

The key points are yet again poor implementation on detail level;

Placement:  … Tesco analyzed their store traffic patterns when deciding where to place their digital signs, but traffic patterns can only tell you so much.  They might give you an idea of where shoppers tend to walk and where they frequently linger, but they won’t tell you which direction they tend to look (you can speculate to some degree, of course), or what other visual clutter is in the area.  Maybe the screen placement interfered with the shopper’s march through the store or their ability to search for products.  It’s also possible that there are simply too many screens in place and the overall effect is more harassment than promotion.  After all, Tesco TV’s 40+ screens per store is quite a bit more than most retail media networks employ…

Content: ...Bright colors and blinking messages might be attention-grabbing, but it can also grate the nerves after a while.  JCDecaux’s own content guidelines recommend creating spots that are 10 seconds long, with sound.  The cacophony of multiple screens running different clips combined with the rapid visual changes of several 10 second ads swapping out might have overwhelmed some customers…With regard to content, there are virtually limitless ways to make attractive, eye-catching segments that soothe and suggest, not chafe and coerce. 

The article concludes that Tesco should not give up, face the challenge, learn from its lessons and conduct some “solid” experiments, implement changes, before hopefully launching some successful digital signage applications in the future.

May 2006Signs of the times: digital signage industry    (source :

 U.K. grocery chain Tesco, however, is a great example of a digital signage screw-up. Tesco installed screens in half its 100 stores. But the program has been temporarily suspended: “Too many screens, in less than optimal locations,” … Research indicates shoppers look at digital in-store screens for an average of 2.5 seconds. The medium may be the message, but it better be clearly on display…

This is the most significant business analysis i’ve read so far;

Mr Spicer, DW + Partners, suggests digital signage’s power has nothing to do with ad revenue. Instead, he thinks retailers should use this strategic tool “to drive consumers into purchasing categories they weren’t going to consider, like higher-margin private-label products.”

July 2007: Tesco TV to become Tesco Screens   (source: digital signage news)

… management group’s realization that digital signage isn’t like TV, it’s like POP displays, and their changes in relation to this have yielded spots that have driven advertised products an extra 5-25% … (dooh :- ) )... “You can forget about the idea that the audience is going to put anything like the cognitive effort they put into a 30-second TV spot when they’re in-store,” though he did note that “referencing a pre-existing TV spot is fine.” …

…Too many others would have simply pulled the plug and written off the network as a giant capital loss, but Tesco recognized that while the potential of the thing was still good, there was a problem with its execution and management. From the looks of it, the significant steps they’ve taken to try and fix them are starting to pay off…

… And then, half a year later, news came that Tesco was about to remove the Tesco Screens from their stores.

February 2009Kinetic View: Tesco TV To Close: The End Of An Era?  (source:

… It didn’t matter about the location; the concept of screens above head height, running TV-style content, with sound, to people on the move in focused ‘shopping mode’ in the busy, distracting, crowded supermarket environment is flawed” … However much Tesco may have been able to leverage big brands to spend, ultimately the effect on sales was going to be measured. If the brands that trialled the network had got the sales uplifts they wanted, they would have invested in numbers … The costs of the network infrastructure and the need for bespoke programming made the service uneconomic for Tesco…

Interesting is that this article is written from within the industry and still advocates digital signage networks without offering concrete examples of services that have created a measurable ROI. I believe there must be successful examples and I am looking forward to experience them myself.

March 2009Dunnhumby says Tesco screens were getting old (source :

As reason for removing Tesco Screens from the stores Dunnhumby (the content management group for the screens) was quoted: “The decision has been taken as much of the equipment is reaching the end of its operational life”

March 2009 : The failed strategy that drove Tesco TV  (source:

… Five years on, and Tesco has finally pulled the plug on the service, subsequently renamed Tesco Screens, leaving its stated ambition of attracting 5% of TV ad revenue seem rather hubristic …Tesco [launched] Tesco TV in 100 stores and invested in 5000 widescreen TVs that were suspended from the ceilings of the aisles – or retail zones – showing a mixture of relevant editorial and advertising. The network’s selling point was that it had a reach of 27% of all supermarket shoppers, equating to 200m shopping trips a year…


…’If you put a screen where people don’t look at it, showing content that requires people to be still, it doesn’t work’ …

…Another downfall was the assumption that advertisers would run the same ads in-store as on TV. This seemed to be predicated on a misconception that consumers had the same level of engagement when shopping as they did in front of the TV at home…

…Sound was also a major problem – early anecdotal evidence suggested that some shoppers and Tesco staff found the ads an irritation, perhaps not helped by the frequency with which they were shown…

…Given that Tesco Screens was trying to attract brands’ TV budgets despite in effect being an outdoor retail medium, there was also confusion over which pot its sales agent, JCDecaux, should target…

… the real issue was that consumers weren’t interested in the first place. ‘If consumers had really liked the service and it had driven sales, agencies would have found a way to make it work.’ …

The conclusion is that Tesco hastily developed the in store TV network without having fully understood, nor experimented sufficiently with prototypes to learn from customer behaviours before rolling out the service. 

It seems there are plenty of companies out there still selling the same digital signage approach to unassuming marketing managers at different companies, that have not learned, or are not familiar with these examples. It’s interesting to see that the digital signage industry’s reports on the failing of these cases is rather meager, compared to the announcement of yet another grand marketing scheme, when it all initially kicked off.

And now we are going to look out for successful implementations based on measurable ROI’s … Who and What has been watched Where? Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Post Scriptum : Freeview porn appears on Tesco TV screens

Tagged as: , , , , , , ,


  1. Hmmm… this is an interesting business and consumerism challenge.

    My view – The solution is truly to do with the choice of placement.

    Here’s an alternative.

    All the DTVs for purpose of advertising, be placed near/in-store gathering points – such as coffee/snack areas or waiting points, and NO WHERE ELSE (i.e. don’t be greedy about abusing all the spaces in the Stores).

    Also advertisers should then subsidised the products/services associated with the area. Free drinks/food (at least) a day a week, is a tried and tested model to constructing a community of gatherers.

    BTW, always have a choco-eat/drink advert from time to time, in between electronics or apparel commercials.

    Leveraging on human impulses to all things choco – natural trigger for neurons firing and making connections for – shopping, for more shopping…

    “Every Little Helps”, Terry lad… ehh… ehh…

    Outcome: “Com-on Lov, we dun enuf rests, let’s go shupping againn…”

  2. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

Leave a Response