Show and Tell


Today’s technology is evident in all aspects of food retailing, even extending to what was heretofore the humble, plain-vanilla area of supermarket aisle shelving.

“New digital in-store technologies improve the customer shopping experience and help the retailers better compete against e-commerce,” affirms John White, CEO at Annapolis, Md.-based Compass Marketing Inc./Powershelf. “Shelving equipped with digital technologies like electronic shelf labels (ESL) is an essential part of this effort.”

White asserts that this technology at the shelf brings the internet to the consumer in-store and gathers shopper data that can be mined for new insights and enable predictive analytics, which he calls a field of rising interest among retail executives.

According to White, Compass’ Powershelf system is a highly configurable turnkey platform that’s battery-free, featuring inductive coupling technology enabling live two-way communication between the shelf edge and any stakeholders, decreasing labor expenses and environmental impact.

Powershelf also features Smart Retail Labels (SRLs) that enable real-time pricing and offer out-of-stock sensors and LED shelf lighting. The Powershelf Mobile Network allows retailers to push timely and relevant content to consumers’ mobile devices, including nutrition and allergen information, recipes, local events, emergency information, and commercials.

“Data derived from the shelf and one-to-one communication with consumers will provide various offerings that will drive the delivery of personalized content to consumers,” White notes, “and retailers will be able to use visual technologies at the shelf to observe consumer shopping behavior in real time.”

What’s Not to Like?

At The Like Machine, in Glenview, Ill., founder Tim Halfmann says, “It’s easy to overlook the complexity and inconsistency in the shelving of more than 50,000 grocery stores.”

Halfmann is convinced these problems can be solved with low-power, highly connected experiences that deliver value to shoppers without the need for them to interact constantly with their phones.

“The Like Machine recreates the online experience of ratings at the point of purchase in-store,” he explains. “Consumers have been trained to make online decisions based on the product, the price, and social proof from other buyers. But that same experience is missing in the store, where more than 94 percent of sales happen.”

Data can be localized for use in brand claims both online and offline, he adds, with the result that “in just 18 months of our pilot, over 10 million shoppers have shared their opinions with The Like Machine, and awareness for the brand in key test markets now exceeds 20 percent.”

Halfmann further observes that social proof delivers value to shoppers and results to marketers, as well as enhancing the store experience.

“Technology will lead innovation as the shelf comes alive,” he observes. “Digital display of information is great, but what makes today’s mobile/ social world thrive is the two-way communication. And that communication will quickly evolve as shoppers dictate.”

Noting that there are thousands of feet of shelf edge in a typical store — the equivalent of dozens of televisions in viewable space — he asks, “Why should shoppers be limited in the information they get at shelf? We believe shoppers want more information with less hassle.”

Data on Display

Andrew Dark, CEO of U.K.-based Displaydata, says, “Grocery shelves fitted with wirelessly controlled electronic labels are delivering more real-time product information, the latest prices and personalized information to engaged shoppers’ smartphones.”

Digitally enabled shelves are playing a large role in letting grocers easily and quickly mark down perishable stock to reduce food wastage and protect margins by graduating the markdown and product offers, Dark says, and promotions can be delivered across an entire store network in seconds.

Innovations like three-color electronic shelf labels (ESLs) and enterprise software solutions “allow grocers to change any and all data relating to product in an instant,” Dark explains, “optimizing sales and margins, and ensuring consistency with the advertised offers and the prices charged at the register.”

Additionally, some Displaydata displays feature Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons that can interact with mobile apps to help shoppers locate products, send out personalized promotions and enhanced product information, and support many other shopper and store experiences.

“ESLs enable retailers to refresh labels in seconds; display updated stock levels, social reviews, language and currency details; change prices; and much more,” Dark says, thus freeing up store associates to spend more time with customers.

Displaydata labels communicate bi-directionally, receiving new images and reporting back to verify that updates have been made. During this reply transmission, details like battery voltage and temperature are also included so the retailer can remotely monitor the status of the labels.

“Displaydata’s labels also feature the latest electrophoretic display (EPD) technology and provide superior image quality, color consistency and brightness,” Dark adds.

Maximum Impact

For his part, Bryan Stirle, of San Diego-based Creative Store Solutions, advises, “Be careful to select shelving colors that contrast with the floor color, or the shelves will disappear.”

Getting down to particulars, Stirle notes the three types of shelving back panels: smooth panels with a cleaner, more elegant appearance; pegboards with holes, good for merchandising hangable products like chips, jerky and nuts; and slotwalls with horizontal grooves, which offer the most flexibility for different kinds of hangers.

For staggered shelving, Stirle recommends: “Use staggered wire shelves for candy and other products, with smaller packages at the top and larger ones below. These shelves should be angled with a lip at the front to keep products from falling off. They allow more of the product face to be displayed, increasing visibility, which enhances sales. Staggered wire shelves also work well for packaged doughnuts and other bakery goods.”

Cross-merchandising Opportunities

More retailers have been requesting sophisticated new merchandising solutions for cross-sells and adjacencies, observes Brad Cox, director of sales and marketing at Wilkes-Barre, Pa.-based Trion Industries Inc.

To address this need, one of Trion’s recent additions, Dual-Lane Auto-Feed Trays, offer two lanes in a single tray that Cox says “better supports displays of families of products, alternate sizes, or totally different and unusual adjacencies, such as bacon bits marketed adjacent to salad dressings, and both next to a primary sell like prepackaged salads.

“Hardware solutions that are applicable storewide simplify outfitting,” he concludes, “compared to custom department-by-department one-up applications.”

“Technology will lead innovation as the shelf comes alive. Digital display of information is great, but what makes today’s mobile/social world thrive is the two-way communication. And that communication will quickly evolve as shoppers dictate.”
–Tim Halfmann, The Like Machine

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