Digital Signage and Surgical Shoppers


By Jose Avalos

Originally Published in Digital Signage Today

There has been a lot of discussion this year over the rise of the "surgical shopper." This is the breed of shopper who knows exactly what they want, approach a store with laser-like precision and make it their goal to get in and out as quickly as possible.

When I first read about the surgical shopping trend, I was a bit puzzled because it didn't strike me as anything that was new. In fact, it seemed like an exact description of not only my own style of shopping, but also most men I know. I guess males were the original surgical shoppers.

Initially, people attributed the rise of surgical shopping to the recession, and no doubt that played a huge role. But I think there's more to it.

According to ShopperTrak, a Chicago research firm, shoppers making a trip to the mall visit an average of three stores, down from five stores before the recession.

Even as retail sales grew 3.5 percent last year, traffic declined 0.5 percent, according to the National Retail Federation.

Now, more shoppers only visit stores when they have a specific reason to buy – holidays, birthdays, back-to-school. Browsing is down, and, as a result, impulse buying is also down.

But, the reality is that not all of this can be attributed to the economy. And even if it could, it's a trend that is here to stay. Retailing is changing, and the growing number of surgical shoppers is part of that change. Today, consumers do their research online and charge into the store knowing what they plan to buy. Many are armed with Groupon emails or other deals they have researched online before heading to the store; they have traded tips on Facebook and may have gotten the whole idea there or on another social media site. I am sure there is a correlation between more time spent online and less time in the store.

Some people refer to this phenomenon as "appointment shopping" or "mission shopping." I prefer the term "surgical shopping," because it also points to the solution: arming retailers with sharper tools for getting more out of every person that walks through the door. As we all make fewer trips, each one of our trips becomes more valuable. Success will go to the brands and retailers who are able to understand this and make the appropriate adjustments.

Because the ability to research products online is a big part of this change in retailing, it's no surprise that the solution lies in bringing more of the online experience into the store: taking the consumer and connecting to them through signs, kiosks, vending machines, at the point-of-sale, you name it. The goal is not simply to generate brand or product awareness, but to deliver a shopping experience that is truly relevant to their needs; to create sharper and more indelible "interactive brand experiences," generating the enjoyable experiences that customers will associate with the brand before, during and after the shopping experience.

When Intel launched our vision for the connected store in January 2011 at the National Retail Federation (NRF), we didn't use the term "surgical shopper." But we could have. "The Connected Store" is all about delivering tools that retailers can rely on to create the aforementioned experiences and maximize the time the shopper spends in the store. We see integrating anonymous video analytics (AVA) technology as one of the critical elements needed to create in-store media that is interactive, performance-driven and truly accountable.

Interactive brand experiences are not only beneficial to the retailer but can also be fun and enjoyable for the shopper. Take for instance the Lego Digital Box kiosk that uses augmented reality technology to show shoppers the completed Lego project – it is one of the most fun kiosk solutions I have ever seen!

Surgical shoppers are here to stay and they are nothing to fear. They are, after all, shoppers who are committed to buying, and that's always a good thing. The key is for brands and retailers to be armed with as much intelligence as the shoppers themselves. With the right tools — signage and kiosks equipped with audience-analytics are prime examples — brands and retailers can do just fine.

Overall, I think this has been terrific year for the industry. I know it's been a great one for Intel. Thank you to everyone in the industry that is committed and contributing to advancing this business for all of us.


Jose Avalos is the Retail Sector General Manager for Intel Corporation in the Intelligent Systems Group.  In this role, Jose leads Intel’s worldwide Retail & Digital Signage businesses and his organization is responsible for delivering Intel’s Intelligent Retail & Digital Signage Platforms, Software and Services, as well as initiatives to fuel the growth of these Industries.  Jose has a multi-faceted career with numerous General Management and Director level positions at Intel in Business, Marketing and Engineering.  Prior to his current role, Jose was General Manager of Intel’s Ultra-wideband Networking Operation.  Jose has represented Intel at SEMATECH, at the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and at the Digital Signage Association advisory boards, and currently represents Intel at the ASU W.P. Carey School of Business Center for Services Leadership board.  He received his BS in EE from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and his MSE in EE from the Arizona State University.  In addition, Jose has completed Executive Leadership Programs at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia and at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

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