The Touch-Free Future of Interactivity in Retail

brightsign touchless sensors

Image credit:

What’s old is new again, at least as it relates to interactive digital signage at retail.

Years ago, when touch screen interactivity approached mainstream adoption in retail, customers were adapting to a new workflow. The progression of customers understanding, trusting and ultimately using touch-interactive signage took time. After all, retailers were resetting shopping behavior that had been in place for many years. But over time, customers became much more accustomed to pressing physical buttons and engaging with touch-interactive displays to navigate on-screen content.

Fast forward to retail’s current pandemic recovery effort, and we’re at a similar crossroads. Masked-up shoppers are more careful than ever, taking steps to avoid touching surfaces unnecessarily. How ironic that the interactive shopping experience we pushed for so many years is now something shoppers have been trained to avoid out of concern for their health.

Of course, the solution is not to abandon interactivity altogether — we must instead adapt to this new reality. Fortunately for our industry, and for the greater retail ecosystem, the technology still exists to create rewarding interactive experiences in-store.

Not long after COVID-19 came onto the scene, we fast-tracked developer support of new interfaces that use BrightSign media players to enable interactivity via buttons and sensors that don’t require physical touch. Many of these solutions are achieved with a simple retrofit of the existing displays, enabling touchless interactivity and protecting the overall installation’s investment. The response has been strong. Here are a few examples of how our partners are integrating touchless interactivity into their solutions. Note that all of these solutions integrate seamlessly with BrightSign players using existing player capabilities via programming tools within BrightAuthor and BrightAuthor:connected.

Audio Authority’s Ascentic Retail Engineering business has just introduced a family of Air Select Touchless Sensors. The AirSelect proximity sensors make it possible to be easily integrated into existing displays — which is great because retailers don’t have to replace existing display hardware. Each proximity sensor acts as a direct replacement for standard 19-millimeter pushbuttons, providing touch-free button engagement. These sensors engage based on the proximity of a customer’s hand, with indicator lights that illuminate, providing important visual feedback to help guide the customer engagement process. Ascentic Retail Engineering’s AirSelect Touchless Sensors are also available with gesture capability, which interprets additional customers’ hand movements. The devices can be used as product selectors and as volume controllers, making them an ideal solution for demonstrating consumer electronics products.

Our friends at Bluefin developed an excellent solution for customers using Bluefin’s screens with BrightSign Built-In. These short-range motion sensors also fit the 19-mm form factor and can be arranged in a GPIO assembly with one, two, three or four buttons. The buttons activate via short-range motion sensors that engage when someone gets within two inches of the sensors. This solution is especially affordable and easy to set up because there’s no additional controller to connect — simply plug directly into the GPIO port to take full advantage of Bluefin’s touchless button capabilities.

Finally, Nexmosphere’s EF Series sensors feature AirTouch and AirGesture, which enable the capture of several different customer interactions. The EF Series is powered by a thin, flat antenna that can be hidden away underneath a pane of acrylic glass. Once installed, the sensors can function both as touchless buttons and interpret left, right, up and down swiping motions. The sensors also support synchronization with LED strip lighting to indicate direction, creating an even more immersive interactive experience.

To be clear, there will be a customer-behavior learning curve to overcome with these new solutions, similar to what we experienced when touch interactivity first came onto the scene years ago. But this evolution is born of necessity, and I suspect customers will welcome the ability to reintroduce interactivity into the shopping experience without the need for physical interaction. Adoption of touchless interactivity may have been accelerated due to COVID-19, but even after the urgency of the pandemic fades, these new technologies will be here to stay.