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Grocery Shelves Getting Smarter

October 5, 2015


Up to now the only thing you could count on from grocery store shelving was that the price tags pasted on it were hard to read and even incorrectly placed. But that may be changing if grocery chain Kroger has something to say about it.


Kroger is deep into experimenting with “smart shelf” technology. Right now at some test stores Kroger's smart shelves are programmed to display video images of outsize price tags that can be altered with a few key strokes at a computer. But Kroger says they are eyeing other future capabilities.


One scenario has a shopper's grocery list uploaded to Kroger. The company then tells your internet connected device where the nearest item is — and sends you an alert if you accidentally pass it by on the shelf. Another scenario has the shelf itself light up right under the product the shopper is seeking. A third scenario supports shoppers looking for products with certain attributes such as sugar-free or gluten-free, with shelving highlighting the location of all the choices that would satisfy the shopper's needs.


Future smart shelf applications could also include providing on-demand nutritional info when shoppers touch the shelf below an item.


“[Smart shelving] has the potential to reinvent brick-and-mortar retailing,” said Brett Bonner, the vice president of Kroger’s research and development. “It brings the info-richness of the Internet to the sight, sounds, smells and touching of in-store shopping.”


So far, the digital tags capability offered by the smart shelves are freeing up time for store clerks to pay more attention to customers. With tens of thousands of individual food items, a typical Kroger store takes more than two weeks to completely re-price by hand with new tags.


Kroger officials say they’ve already tested video and no-motion ads that have boosted sales. During testing in the diaper aisle, the store sold more wet wipes when the shelves flashed “don’t forget baby wipes” reminders.


The food store chain says it continues to study customers’ response to the technology. While the company has tested audio with the shelves, some customers found it jarring to listen to a sales pitch from a store fixture.


The retailer also got mixed results from some video ads that have been used. Children were delighted to see the Cheerios honeybee fly “inside” the edge of the shelf in the cereal aisle, but some parents weren’t thrilled to have to pull their kids away from multiple performances.


Kroger leaders say they are consulting with consumer packaged goods suppliers, such as Procter & Gamble, with deep advertising experience to select the most effective still or video ads.


(Adapted from an article in the Indianapolis Star).

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