Passer-by or passing trade?

I had a lightbulb moment at the weekend, without the lightbulb (an LCD moment, perhaps?):  digital-shelf-edge is going to change stores completely.

At this time of year my thoughts tend to turn to NRF as all our planning goes up a gear.  I was wondering what innovations would be making an impact on the expo floor this weekend when a friend showed me a digital-shelf display that, as the saying goes, opened my mind.  Via an app, he’d let the grocery brand in question know that his daughter had just got engaged.  Beacon technology identified him at the ‘store door’, and then when he came to the wine racks he was greeted by a colourful riot of digital persuasion offering him “Congratulations!” and some personalised champagne offers. 

While this (I’ll come clean) was a demo rather than in situ in store, the applications were obvious and the experience compelling. And with grocers at different ends of the market (Waitrose and Morrisons) currently trialling different types of digital shelf labels, the momentum is growing.



Price-checks RIP

There are different things you can do with your digital shelf displays.  On the practical (and arguably less exciting) level, they are a great way of delivering dynamic pricing.  Price adjustments take place instantaneously, without the need for input from staff in individual stores.  At a stroke this eliminates mistakes and (for grocery retail in particular) one of the key bones of contention – the checkout wrangle. 

Admit it, we’ve all had that heart-sinking moment when you query a price at the checkout and then the associate calls for someone, who takes a couple of minutes to arrive and then a few more minutes to go and check the price, and you’re left wondering whether this time you’ll never get back is really worth the 50p price saving…

This is especially interesting for retailers selling a wide range of SKUs.  The promotional opportunities are limited only by the retailers’ imaginations – there could for example be time-limited pricing for ‘lunch specials’.

This aspect of digital shelf means significant costs savings for the retailers.  It also delivers an improved experience for shoppers and store associates alike.  For the latter, this increases job satisfaction as they can in theory concentrate more on customer-facing activities.


A brighter instore experience

Dynamic pricing is all very exciting, but where digital shelf will really come into its own is with the aforementioned champagne promo, and the like.  Next-generation, High Definition technology has great potential to make a disruptive impact on individual shopper behaviours.  Posters and mannequins can’t really compete with something that has colour, motion, dynamism and novelty.

Digital shelf delivers the opportunity to bring promotional messages to life, right at the shelf-edge.  In other words, you can target your message within inches of the product itself.  Consumers won’t have far to travel to satiate their desires.

With mobile integration, the shelf can become an interactive customer touchpoint.  Personalised offers can be delivered based on customers’ location within the store.  In fact there’s no reason that individual shelves can’t handle full transactional capabilities.

Needless to say it’s a product marketer’s dream, as they can align omnichannel pricing and promotions with speed, agility and consistency, and quickly understand which promotions work in which stores, at which times.  The fact that it can all be run from HQ means everything, everywhere, can be updated immediately.

The benefits?  More engaged consumers, happy suppliers, competitive advantage, increased revenue and profitability.  It’s about turning passers-by into passing trade, and giving your shelf an edge.  Pun intended.



Coming to a store near you

Of course the real magic comes when the entire shelf is ‘smart’ and can deliver ‘automated inventory’ – accurate real-time inventory visibility to inform associates when shelves need restocking, flag potential stock-outs, and give wider management insight about ‘spikes’ in demand.

Digital shelf technology is a very high-profile way of bringing stores into the digital age.  With the likes of Retail Week identifying digital shelf edge as probably one of the best investments for retailers right now, (not least of which because of the immediate payback it delivers) it’s difficult to resist the feeling that its time has come.