National Hardware Retailer Rapid Prototyping Brings Innovation to Point-of-Purchase Signage

Innovation and Emerging Technology / Retail
The combination of rapid iteration and prototyping is an extremely valuable and efficient tool for developing creative solutions to all kinds of problems. Rightpoint Rapid Sprints and working prototypes help solve problems quickly by enabling solution testing without requiring full investment in the final product. This approach is especially well suited to complex solutions that will ultimately require substantial buy in and investment, potentially including the overhaul of legacy systems. Rightpoint recently used this process to help a national hardware store chain explore an innovative solution for managing point-of purchase (POP) signage.

Starting with a Strategy

Staying on top of POP is a massive and critical undertaking for larger retailers with multiple locations across the country. Vendor contracts often hinge on whether or not a retailer meets specific POP obligations including display duration, location, and ensuring that signage is not damaged or obscured. Correct POP signage also fosters better sales by ensuring that customers and sales staff can locate products quickly and easily. To make things even more complicated, POP specifications change from season to season and based on current promotions. Ultimately, if POP signage is not handled properly, the vendor/retailer relationship can be damaged or even nullified. 


Surprisingly, most retailers—including large ones that have implemented sophisticated digital solutions in other areas of their businesses—still use very old-school, manual processes to audit in-store compliance with POP specifications. Employees use hard copy printed diagrams of shelving, bays, and display units to manually check long serial number references to ensure that all POP is where it is supposed to be and displayed properly. 


As might be expected, this system is rife with issues:

  • The laborious and tedious nature of the task means that sometimes it doesn’t get done at all. And when someone does take up the task, they often aren’t able to complete it thoroughly because information is missing or inaccurate.

  • Even when the employee makes the best effort, the manual nature of the process greatly increases the chance of human error. (When Rightpoint did on-site testing with the hardware customer, not a single bay audited had all the signage it was supposed to have.)


In addition to jeopardizing vendor relationships, missing or incorrect POP signage also puts retail sales at risk. Without the right signage, products may be on the shelf, but hard to find, and customers wind up taking their dollars elsewhere. Finally, inaccurate POP data can derail sales and marketing initiatives by giving an incomplete or misleading sense of campaign performance.


The team’s challenge was to come up with a solution that would automate the POP audit process for greater speed, accuracy, and—not least of all—a better employee experience.


Two women looking over paint color swatches

Work

The customer came to the table with the right mindset for a prototyping project. They understood the problem, but weren’t married to any particular solution. This is perfect because the prototyping process is all about embracing the unknown, something the Rightpoint team does on a regular basis with great enthusiasm. They know that staying open and flexible is the only way to uncover the most creative solutions.


Since the customer didn’t have experience operating with an innovation/rapid iteration framework, they looked to Rightpoint to drive the process that would get them to a working prototype that could be tested on-site with real store employees. 


From start to finish, the project took about five weeks. It took place in three broad phases:


Framing and Shaping

Research—including stakeholder interviews, on-site task observation, and groupthink activities—helped the team drill down to the precise nature of the actual problem. The team collaboratively explored the various challenges and initial thoughts on possible solutions, all in an effort to align the team and the final solution with the true need.


Solution Development

The team quickly moved through solution iterations. The high-level, quick iteration of the Rightpoint Rapid Sprint process effectively captured all the different ideas and opinions, including insights that Rightpoint had collected during research on other leaders in the customer’s retail space and adjacent industries. With Rightpoint providing guidance, the team worked to remix and improve on the very best existing ideas to create a new and better solution. Initially, the team looked at virtual reality technology; but in the end, the team pivoted to focus on computer vision and OCR (optical character recognition), supported with augmented reality queues. 


On-site Testing and Iteration

Continuing with our Rapid Sprints, the team quickly iterated on designs and developed proof-of-concept working prototypes, which they then brought to local store locations for bi-weekly testing. The Rightpoint testing team included a designer, a developer, and product manager so that as the team collected immediate employee feedback, they were able to prioritize that feedback and make real-time prototype edits to then retest with new employees an hour later. 



At the end of the project, the team had a working prototype that could consistently identify POP signage using a tuned cocktail of image recognition OCR to produce a high level of accuracy, and programmatically draw boxes to show the signage location within a specified bay. The computer vision was proven to be fully functional within the intended use case. In addition, the computer vision code had been written using a platform portable methodology for maximum flexibility and scale. 


The team also explored other potential features and benefits that might be developed down the road to enhance and complement the existing prototype. These included incorporating the ability to order new signage directly in the app and provide store supervisors with in-depth reporting on POP activity and compliance at the team, department, and store management levels.


Person writing on a whiteboard

“Clients often come to us looking for solutions to complex, open-ended challenges. Our rapid prototyping process is the most effective and efficient way to harness the vast possibilities. This process gives our hyper-focused and agile-minded teams the ability to quickly design, develop, test, and iterate on working proof-of-concept solutions that use the latest innovative technology to empower our clients within finite time and investment constraints.”

Andy Watson Senior Product Manager, Rightpoint

Outcomes

In only a few weeks, the team was able to develop, design, and prototype a working solution that met all of the customer’s needs. It automated the audit process, which in turn improved speed and accuracy, and also greatly improved the employee experience. At the big-picture level, Rightpoint had provided the customer team with a proof-of-concept solution they could take to their leadership as part of a larger digital transformation. The prototype let the customer’s leadership team experience a piece of the proposed solution in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost that would ultimately be involved in bringing the whole transformation to life. In this way, it was a powerful tool for driving internal conversations around digital transformation.

Our Contributions

Capability

  • Product Innovation
  • Prototyping and Testing

Technology

  • Augmented Reality
  • Computer Vision
  • Optical Character Recognition