Digital Storefronts Offer New Glazing Opportunities

By Ellen Rogers

You’re not fun anymore.

That might be one way to describe the U.S. population’s sentiments about
brick-and-mortar shopping. Whether it’s lack of enjoyment, or the attractive simplicity and speed of online shopping, thousands of retailers have closed stores over the past couple of years. But what if shopping was fun again? For some companies, advances in digital media incorporated into glass storefronts and other retail applications, might do just that. Some of these technologies allow retailers to project their messages directly onto the glass; others are even interactive, providing customers with a dynamic shopping experience. For example, some storefronts feature touchscreen technologies that allow shoppers to interact with the store, even when it’s closed, providing a means for them to still do business.

Neil McSporran, manager of business development, architectural and technical services for Pilkington North America Inc. in Toledo, Ohio, says these technologies can even address one of the most frustrating parts of shopping: standing in line.

“Digital technologies will link into the store and allow shoppers to buy at the touchscreen rather than stand in line,” he says. “If you can remove that frustration, it helps people want to be in the store.”

Glass is an essential component in creating these digital storefronts, which are helping to change the customer experience, making it more interesting and user friendly.

Digital Displays

“Most companies realize that digital technologies are becoming less expensive so they’re thinking of new ways to incorporate them into [applications such as] storefronts,” says McSporran.

Steve Abadi, chairman and CEO of Innovative Glass Corp. in Plainview, N.Y., adds that these digital technologies are an effective way for retailers to entice shoppers. His company provides a liquid crystal (LC) privacy glass that transitions from clear to opaque. It can be used in storefront applications for an attention-getting display medium onto which retailers can project images, then have it resort back to its clear state, making it like a temporary billboard.

As Abadi explains, retailers still want to have a clear window that allows shoppers to see what’s on the other side, “then at night or periodically throughout the day, they can switch to privacy glass and they can project onto the back of the glass,” he says. “The LC is a projected surface and they can put whatever content they want on the glass– special, videos, rotating images, etc.”

Dallas-based Glass Media was founded nearly five years ago, and is focused on projection-based, end-to-end, digital storefronts for brands/retailers with a physical location. The company combines its proprietary display technology and analytically infused Internet of things (IoT) platform, to help create more dynamic shopping experiences. They work directly with retailers of all shapes and sizes, including digital brands that are moving to brick and mortar, and small- to medium-sized businesses, as well as design companies and architectural firms.

Daniel Black, founder and CEO, says existing retail stores are often stale and antiquated, and summon a number of concerns with their traditional means of in-store or storefront marketing and promotion. For one, he points out that most retailers only change their messaging eight to 12 times a year. Another issue is compliance. For example, paper posters are shipped out to stores across the country, yet not displayed in a timely fashion, or even at all. “This creates more waste and is not very efficient,” says Black, adding that
other issues include the inability to measure ROI on traditional print displays, and also that the same posters, banners, etc., are shipped to every store, everywhere, failing to take into account specifics about each city and surrounding demographics.

The Digital Storefront

“We’ve developed a digital storefront technology to solve these problems,” says Black. “We manufacture a proprietary line of front- and rear-projection films that are applied over the glass, and then we mount a projector on the ceiling.” That projector is then used to display the imagery or video material onto the glass. This allows stores to change their window displays, for example, as often as they’d like. Black adds that the infrastructure is
run over cellular networks so they don’t have to use an Ethernet cable. It’s completely off-net.

He continues, “Through our content management system [i.e., the store’s window display] anyone at the store [with access] can remotely log in through a tablet, desktop, etc. and [adjust] the scheduled campaign.”

One thing that’s unique to his company, Black says, is that they own their software, which allows them to custom tailor the content management.

“Most content management is designed to be maintained internally. Ours is designed for the end user [the store] to control the storefront message,” he says.

The company’s projects are split about 50-50 between new and existing construction. He says with new construction they get a bit more involved compared to existing buildings.

“We get involved with construction calls so contractors know where to put the electrical outlet for the projector,” he says, adding that they are also kept up-to-date on changes that could impact the digital display, such as a change in the lighting since brightness parameters are important.

While glass is an integral part of these storefronts, the supplier’s role and involvement isn’t complicated. McSporran says that, as a glass supplier, he typically works with customers to help them specify the glass for certain applications, but he is not involved with incorporation of any of the digital elements. At the same time, it’s their priority to ensure that the digital application is safe and secure, so the installation often needs some type of
cover glass for protection. This can be glass with high light transmission in
the storefront.

“Also, if the display is going to show an advertisement, that needs to be clear [and easy to see],” says McSporran. “So you might also want an anti-reflection coating. We’re seeing that used with television displays with storefronts.

“I think the key is to make sure the installer can see the display. If you have a lot of glass and there’s a lot of reflection, that’s a pretty big issue [because you can’t see the display].”

Speaking of the projection, Abadi notes that this element of the project is often handled by an audio visual technician; the glass installation is handled by a contract glazier. He agrees that lighting is the key consideration. “Lighting in the store should be subdued and has to be related to the position of the projector and the glass,” he says, explaining there are generally two types of projectors.

“Short throw projectors, which are the more expensive option, can be located 2 to 3 feet back from the glass and located on the ceiling or floor; typically on the ceiling. So the lighting with that space between the projectorand the glass should be subdued,” he says. “The other option is a standard projector, which has to be about 10 feet away from the glass, and in that condition those are very effective. But, you have to make sure the lighting in between the projector and the back of the glass is subdued.”

He adds that the AV integrator can set up the system so that when the projector turns on, the lights dim automatically.

Black agrees and says that while their technology is complementary to glass, there are some considerations in terms of the selection.

“If you have a dual-pane, low-E with a dark tint and there’s a particular window where you want to have the digital media, you’ll want a different glass there, such as a clear with low-E,” he says. “The clearer the glass the brighter we can make the display for less money.”

To gather the information they need, Black will send technicians out to survey and measure for the type and size of glass. “This lets us know details such as the number of lites, thickness, whether it’s tinted, low-E, has a silver coating, etc. This information helps us know how bright the store needs to be for the [content] to be legible in direct sunlight.”

Most applications do not follow a traditional architectural glass specification chain. It typically involves companies working with retail chains or a design company focused on digital signage.

As with most traditional glazing projects, getting the glass company involved early on can help alleviate some of the challenges and concerns of making sure the right glass products are used.

“With some of the technologies that are touchscreen, you have to be careful it’s compatible with the glass,” says McSporran. “There are certain coatings that will block the [touchscreen] signal. These are details that should be ironed out in development, before the installation.”

He adds that some digital signage display companies aren’t always experts with respect to glass.

“We advise them to ask questions about what they’re trying to do, because we can help in specification of what they need.”

Abadi adds that the beauty of the projected LC privacy glass installation is that it doesn’t affect the contract glazier’s work.

“The projection option is actually an easy upgrade they can offer,” he says. “It’s something where the glazier can say to [their customer] ‘by the way, this glass can also be used as a rear projection surface …’ It doesn’t cost anything more in terms of the glass. You just need a projector.”

Other Applications

While storefronts are a popular location to incorporate digital technologies, McSporran says there are also other applications seeing interest.

“Think about kiosks and interactive areas in the malls. That’s typically a digital display in a box with a glass cover,” he says. “That may also be laminated so if it breaks the glass stays together.”

McSporran adds that they’re also seeing increasing interest in interactive applications.

“In a storefront, we’ve seen touchscreen technologies that allow you to interact with the store, even when it’s closed, and still do business,” he says. “You can have different touchscreen technologies used in conjunction with the glass.”

McSporran’s company also offers Pilkington MirroView, which can be used to hide TV screens.

“When it’s off it looks like a mirror and when it’s on it shows the TV,” says McSporran. “You can create interest and customer experiences. We’re seeing it used in interactive changing room mirrors, storefronts, etc.”

A Digital World

Will digital and interactive storefronts and displays save the dying retail shopping industry? It’s too soon to say for sure, but there is definite potential for these technologies to help.

“It’s still quite a small area, but digital technologies are everywhere and the costs are coming down, so I expect we’ll see more in the future,” says McSporran.

Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.

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