Cutting Edge: How supermarket shelving plays a sophisticated part in marketing

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Heretofore taken for granted, the once lowly shelf is taking on an expanded role in the evolution of food retailing. “The concept of ESLs [electronic shelf labels] has been around for years,” says Paul Milner, Marketing Director at Displaydata, based in the U.K. town of Bracknell, “but in today’s ever-growing digital retail environment, retailers and their customers are ready to make this new generation of ESLs a part of the store experience.”
Displaydata’s fully graphic three-color ESLs, with the option of integrated Bluetooth Low Energy beacons, enable grocers “to drive in-store pricing and promotions with speed, agility and consistency,” Milner notes, adding that they can also display product, price, promotion, nutritional information and stock levels, as well as enable centralised management of any number of ESLs across any number of stores in seconds.\
“We believe that … key drivers for grocery retailers adopting ESLs are transparency and integrity,” Milner observes. “Grocers want to earn the customer’s trust, which means it is critical to off er price and promotion accuracy at the shelf edge that also matches what is advertised in online channels.”
With Amazon’s aggressive moves into grocery, he notes, the stakes are higher than ever, and the right technology innovations can help grocers compete. “We believe that in the next five years, the majority of retailers will achieve full digital integration,” Milner says, “and grocery retailers will adopt ESLs to achieve everyday low pricing, easily match prices with competitors or web-based delivery services, and much more.”
The End of OOS?
According to John White, CEO of Annapolis, Md.-based Compass Marketing, one of the most important applications of the company’s Powershelf System is solving out-of-stocks (OOS) by using a combination of proprietary hardware and software to identify, analyse and eliminate OOS incidents while simultaneously delivering real-time insights at the shelf level.
“Industry white papers have demonstrated an average industry-wide OOS rate of 8 percent,” White notes. “That means that in the average grocery store, 8 percent of products are OOS at any one time.”
OOS sensors are the most popular feature of Powershelf, he says, because they allow grocers to compete with growing omnichannel and online retailers. “Powershelf Smart Retail Labels [SRLs] — our proprietary electronic shelf labels — light up to help store employees restock shelves and pick items for curbside express service,” White explains, noting that SRLs enable stores to monitor items and adjust prices per market demand. For instance, the price of a product that’s been sitting on the shelf too long can be altered to move it faster. He believes that ESLs will help retailers adapt to dynamic pricing models and better compete with e-commerce competitors.
‘Digital Associates’
“We believe the best place for a brand to message shoppers is when they’re right in front of it, and not in a passive way — measurable, two-way engagement,” says Tim Halfman, founder and CEO of The Like Machine, in Glenview, Ill. “Shoppers tap our device and are sent a mobile notification. They answer a brand question, look at the latest reviews, get an off er or give their own star rating.”
The Like Machine has completed the first phase of hardware and software for the Shopper Connect device, and it’s now in test stores, Halfman notes. “Our retail and CPG customers created 20 million shopper engagements with The Like Machine in our initial pilot,” he says.
While shoppers like to share their opinions, Halfman adds, the reality is that the clear majority don’t do so online, but that Th e Like Machine capitalises on the traffic in-store and gives all shoppers a way to share in a simple, anonymous way. “Thousands of opinions a month, not dozens,” is how he puts it. “It’s a little bit like having digital associates in your aisles.” Halfman believes that data driven from within the store can be used in macro driving trends and micro personalisation.
“Shoppers herd with the trends of others, but want to feel the individual attention to their needs,” he observes.
Regarding electronic shelf labels, Halfman notes that they’re “designed to manage the one ubiquitous piece of data we all process when we shop,” pointing to Amazon, which he says has demonstrated the power of social proof in ratings, the value of comparison shopping, the interest that shoppers have in related products, and the ease of subscription services. Halfman advises, “It’s a miss to not offer this and more at the shelf. Let’s make it a meaningful communication and engagement tool.”
The Case for Space
In the realm of center store shelving innovations, QwikSlot Radius Shelving allows grocers to put more products in the same or a smaller footprint and be readily noticed, according to Rob Napkori, market manager of the commercial and consumer products division of InterMetro Industrial Corp., known as Metro, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Napkori says that QwikSlot is easily adjustable, showcases the product and is available in multiple colors to match new décor packages. “Supermarket shelving needs to evolve to handle the space issue facing all grocery store chains,” Napkori asserts. “We see stores going to smaller footprints and becoming more neighborhood markets, which means a smaller center store. The customer is shopping more [in the] perimeter, with ready-made and ready-to-take meals.”
While ESLs have been slow to take hold, he says, they will be the future of grocery shelving, because they not only give the customer much-needed product information, but also give the retailer the information needed to carry what customers want, reorder when low, and stock shelves when they’re low or empty.
Marilyn Whetzel, a sales executive at Storage & Distribution Systems, owner of Metro Shelving, in Curtis Bay, Md., says that the most popular of her company’s shelving products are the Super Adjustable, which comes with an easy-adjust lever to change the height of each shelf, and QwikSlot Shelving, which has a fixed top and bottom shelf, while the shelves in between drop into a slot with a metal hook, making it easy to adjust shelf levels and remove shelves without having to take apart the rest of the unit.
“Both of these came about to make our wire shelving easier to rearrange and adjust,” she notes. The Super Adjustable shelving comes in several finishes, with the chrome finish being popular for supermarkets, according to Whetzel, who says that the chrome finish is for dry storage indoors. Stainless steel or epoxy-coated options are also available.
“These finishes became popular due to how well they hold up to aggressive and rust-prone environments,” she explains. In addition to the popular shelving noted, Whetzel says that Metro has introduced new products in the past year, with more styles available in a large variety of sizes. “We carry many accessories, including dividers, ledges, label holders and cart covers, which can be customized with the store’s logo or a specific department name printed on the cover,” she adds.
Heshy Lovi, sales and marketing director at Brooklyn, N.Y.-based M. Fried Store Fixtures, which serves grocers in the New York metro area, has this take on electronic shelf labels: “As far as ESL goes, none of our customers use it as of now. I’m hearing that people are waiting for the next big thing, like in-store use of Amazon-type of software, and for the most part, they will skip upgrading to ESLs.”
This just goes to show that grocers are aware of the marketing potential of their shelves, whether now or later.

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