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Shoppers at ShopRite stores can now pick up recipe tips, catch up on news, and even learn what new model of Mercedes is for sale at their local dealership, all while waiting in line to pay for their groceries -- thanks to a new in-store television network the retailer is implementing in its stores.

The system, developed by Premier Retail Networks of San Francisco, consists of a network of flat-panel LCD displays placed at each checkout and fed a steady stream of programming via satellite. So far these displays are installed at approximately half of the chain's stores, with the remaining stores slated to be on the network by year's end.

The decision to install the network was primarily one of customer service, according to Karen Meleta, manager of media relations for Wakefern Food Corp., ShopRite's parent company. "It's another way of improving our customers' shopping experience," she says. "It reduces their perceived wait time and delivers helpful bits of information while they're standing in line to check out."

The 15-inch flat-panel LCD screens are affixed to each checkout station, and occupy a small footprint at its base. The unit employs directional audio so that only the person in line can hear the program; the clerks standing behind the unit don't hear a sound.

Content on the screen is broken up into three panels: The main panel occupies about 60 percent of the screen, and it's this area in which the primary video is displayed. To the right is a small vertical panel that displays specific information that's relevant to the message on the main screen. For example, the main panel may show a chef giving instructions on how to prepare a meal, while the side panel displays a Web site address from which the recipe for the featured meal can be downloaded.

Running across the bottom of the screen is a "ticker box," which displays a steady stream of content that's independent of the other two panels, such as news, weather, or sports scores.

While the content for the main panel is consistent across a region -- even nationally across PRN's entire network of retailers -- the side panel is customized for each ZIP code. So while the Mercedes advertisement mentioned earlier may play nationwide, the dealer information in the side panel is targeted to the dealership closest to the store.

The choice of content comes from two sources, PRN and the retailer on the network. PRN solicits advertising from companies seeking to reach their target customers, not necessarily for products and services available at the retailer. Mixed in with these ads is content licensed from a variety of sources, such as the Oxygen Network, the Food Channel, Discovery Health, and "InStyle" magazine.

ShopRite's content

The other component is content developed by ShopRite. While Meleta declines to comment on ShopRite's share of programming time, she says that the retailer is allotted a percentage of each programming hour. "We have just begun developing content for the network, but we plan to use this for a variety of things, such as reinforcing our brand message to the community -- 'This is your neighborhood, this is your ShopRite' -- as well as for promoting products," she adds.

ShopRite will also use the space for public service messages, which it has already started with a spot for the benefit of tsunami victims in South Asia. "We were able to use the PRN system to inform customers that they can make a donation right there at the register, and where those monies will be going," says Meleta. "They're going to the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army for their efforts in targeting the area. The system makes sure the customers get the message without having to have our cashiers constantly remind them."

The public service announcement was produced by ShopRite with the help of PRN and its full-service in-house production studio. "We worked together much like a typical interaction with a full-service agency," explains Meleta. "We approached them with the idea and went back and forth creatively, and PRN produced the finished product."

Not all of ShopRite's content will consist of feel-good community service and branding ads, however. Some of the programming time will be used to help the retailer do its main job -- sell groceries. "We do also plan to use the space to promote in-store specials and to highlight products," notes Meleta. "For this we will enlist the help of our agency of record, which works with us to produce our flyers and signage."

Ideally, Meleta aims to build an integrated approach to her marketing strategy, incorporating the PRN network into multimedia marketing campaigns. "An integrated approach is always the best way to deliver a marketing message," she says. "You have a captive audience at the checkout, so the message is hard to miss."
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