COVID-19 has been a gut-punch for much of the AV industry. Not since 9/11 has the business world faced such an abrupt pause, followed by an uncertain future. In the case of this pandemic, how the future plays out will be dictated largely by viral spread, and our collective response to that threat. And while much of the future is unknown, we can venture some reasonable assumptions about what lies ahead for the AV industry as the world grapples with and ultimately emerges from COVID-19.
The Art of the Pivot
Businesses typically respond one of two ways in challenging times — they either dig in their heels and double-down on their core offering, or they act quickly to changing circumstances. As disruptive as the pandemic has been, these dynamic times present opportunities for businesses to pivot quickly to solve emerging business needs. To use BrightSign as an example, the company moved quickly to offer signage solutions to address the pressing need for businesses to re-open safely and deliver rewarding customer experiences in the face of stricter regulations brought on by COVID-19. Pivots can be subtle — as was the case with BrightSign when we added a handful of COVID-19 solutions to our existing portfolio — or they can be absolute, with companies abandoning dwindling revenue streams in pursuit of emerging market opportunities. Expect to see plenty of both in the months ahead.
Digital Signage Is Needed Now More Than Ever
Businesses now face a challenging return to normal. The “new normal” moniker is overused but makes the point that businesses will need to function differently not just for a matter of weeks, but for a matter of months (or even years). The retail industry in particular must follow very specific health department guidance to ensure a pathogen-free shopping experience. They’re desperate to understand how to engage customers without physically interacting with them. New AV technologies play an important role in making this possible, and it falls on those of us in the AV industry to help retailers and other businesses understand how technology can help deepen customer engagement while still keeping a safe distance.
Interactivity Becomes Touchless
For many years, interactivity has been viewed as one of the richest, most rewarding forms of digital signage. Consequently, retail shops and other businesses have invested heavily in touch-interactive AV infrastructure that hinges on a customer’s ability to drive the interactive experience via a touchscreen. With customers now avoiding any unnecessary in-store physical contact, retailers will need to find new ways for customers to engage with interactive content without the need for physical interaction. This opens the flood gates for new technologies that complement traditional touch-interactive signage. Single-use capacitive devices (e.g. a stylus) may bridge the gap to a certain degree, but I think what will become much more commonplace will be two-way interactivity whereby customers use their phones to control in-store signage. This model could become the new norm for in-store interactive engagement. Additionally, I expect we’ll begin to see mainstream adoption of infrared and LIDAR-based “touch-free buttons” as a means to control on-screen content without having to physically interact with a control surface. These technologies are not new, however their adoption will be greatly accelerated as a result of the pandemic.
Recovery May Come More Quickly Than Expected
COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. Even if a viable vaccine emerges within the next year, this pandemic will have effects that we’ll feel for years to come. That said, I think it’s possible that lasting economic recovery may come sooner than we expect. I say this because I’m generally optimistic that the world will find a way to cope with the pandemic’s effects in a way that lets us resume a certain level of normalcy while still remaining vigilant about our collective health. To be clear, it will be a long, uphill climb. But I truly believe that reimagining how we live in the shadow of COVID-19 will be integral to how we recover from this crisis. The AV industry is up to the challenge and will make important contributions to society at large as we grapple with these historic changes.