Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Exclusive: How Covid has affected the digital signage market

Ben Phelps, Absen Europe’s retail industry director, on Covid-19 and the DS sector

Working for a Chinese manufacturer during these challenging times was eye-opening for me personally and, despite the difficulties we are all continuing to face, some optimism can be found from seeing the strong desire from our industry to recover through hard work and perseverance. At the same time, we can’t deny that the entire AV industry has been hit very hard, and I’m thinking particularly about the rental staging and events industry, which for an LED manufacturer was such a large part of our business.

Many of our friends, colleagues and clients from the events industry have suffered a great deal, with people losing their jobs and companies having to close their doors permanently. From a purely business perspective, this has had a significant impact on LED sales for 2020, including for major manufacturers like Absen. But this situation has also shown how resilient, creative and buoyant our industry is, and this mindset is paving the path to recovery, before our industry can thrive again.

Shifting attention
Away from the events industry, in what other ways have we seen the market affected by the pandemic? Initially, Chinese LED manufacturers shifted attention away from the overseas markets, as the Chinese domestic market recovered sooner and was always, unsurprisingly, the biggest market for LED displays. In Absen, we placed greater emphasis, from early on in 2020, on developing the Chinese domestic market, with good results that have helped the company to weather the storm. At the same time, Absen has been the world’s number one exporter of LED displays for over a decade, meaning that business overseas has always been at the heart of our company philosophy. So, over the last year, we have demonstrated that we remained available for any opportunity or need that our clients might have. 

Whilst the DOOH industry has also always been a strong market for LED manufacturers, it was also hit hard in 2020, mostly for those companies involved in advertising in transport hubs. Some even took this opportunity to roll out LED deployments and replace those ageing signage and digital signage displays they’ve been meaning to upgrade for a while. We foresee this market recovering more quickly as normality hopefully returns in 2021, and as more and more advertising goes digital. We have high hopes that DOOH will bring strong sales for us this year, not just from the Chinese domestic market, but also from other regions like EMEA and Asia.

Growth potential
The fixed installation market has always been a very strong vertical for Absen, with huge international growth potential, as small pitch LED is now such a viable option to replace other technologies. Again, this was of course hit very hard by the pandemic, but we certainly foresee a quicker recovery than for other verticals.  Many projects were put to one side as priorities changed during the year, but we are already seeing in the market a desire for these projects to be pushed to the front of the queue again. 

In Absen we separate ‘fixed installation’ into corporate and retail. The corporate market is already showing encouraging signs of recovery, and we see great potential in larger LED displays being used as part of videoconference facilities, which we expect to see more and more of as travel restrictions persist, and as the advantages of virtual meetings were so dramatically thrust on us during the year.  Education is also a huge part of the corporate market, and universities and schools have certainly seen how important it is to have up-to-date digital strategies, allowing greater flexibility for remote learning, and we would expect LED displays to form a large part of that strategy.

Retail thinking
Last, but certainly not least, we come to the retail market, my personal focus within Absen. So much can be said here, but in just a few words and very superficially, despite the obvious huge impact the pandemic has had on retailers, we still see huge potential. Working already with major international retailers gives us some interesting insights, many retailers were already planning on cutting the number of smaller stores and opening larger “experience centres” to combat the threat of online retailers, or as part of their omnichannel strategy. LED displays certainly play a large part in these experience centres, so although we don’t expect to see huge rollouts of LEDs in thousands of smaller stores, we certainly look forward to interesting projects for the retail market in the coming years.