The Rise of Electronic Shelf Labels

- by Lottie Atkin

Electronic shelf labels refer to systems used by retailers to sell their products in stores. Typically, the display modules are attached to the front edge of retail shelving, and display the pricing and additional information of the product, such as sell by dates and nutritional value for food products, or product information for electronics. The concept dates all the way back to 1991, when Scandinavian based tech company Pricer was founded in Sweden. The first ever Pricer ESL system was installed in a Cash & Carry store in 1995. The modules use electronic paper or liquid crystal paper to display this information. A communication network allows the price display to be automatically updated whenever a product price is changed, and it is this what makes ESL a strong solution for modern retail. In order to operate properly, the wireless communication must have a reasonable range, speed, battery life and reliability, which can be based on radio, infrared or even visible light communication. 

A new impulse 

Pricer SmartTAGs

Pricer SmartTAGs

The ESL market is estimated to grow from 186.5 million dollars to 399.6 million dollars by 2020*. According to market research firm Marketsandmarkets, the ESL sector is driven by the growing demand for real-time product positioning and the accuracy of label pricing, mostly in the North American and European regions. Full graphic labels, which are e-paper based electronic labels that support graphics, are expected to be the dominant player in the ESL market in years to come. 

Due to their ‘tech savvy’ attraction for consumers, more and more companies are getting on board with electronic shelf labels. Companies such as bfresh, a small US company that targets urban neighbourhoods that value fresh, healthy food at affordable prices. They made the decision at a promising, important stage during their development to instal the ESL system to support staff and customers. Not only did the customers view it as ‘tech savvy’, but they also learned that it was environmentally friendly, two concepts that will boost the brands perception. Moreover, the electronic shelf label providers Pricer offer click-and-collect benefits that the chain plans to explore in the future. Pricer’s CEO, Charles Jackson, claims that the decision is of ‘significant strategic value’ for the US market position, as it allows the company to gain an understanding of building and delivering in-store technology to stay ahead of the retail game and shoppers needs. The hugely popular US health food store, Whole Foods, has recently opened a new chain of stores called 365 by Whole Foods, which feature ESL as part of a range of technology installations aimed to attract a younger shopping audience.

ESL’s in Europe 

Carrefour Electronic Shelf Labels

Carrefour Electronic Shelf Labels

The concept of ESLs are spreading through Europe as well as the US. German hypermarket Chain Kaufland Group announced in August that it will begin to display electronic shelf labels across its stores nationwide. The company has over 650 stores and is part of the Schwarts Gruppe, which also owns the well known value grocery store Lidl. It has teamed up with the UK tech company Displaydata, who will be providing the ESLs. In a prime example of modern technology in a traditional setting, Carrefour City, located in the 16th century district of Paris, launched a brand new concept back in October, where they combined urban design with expanding its ‘organic, fresh and snack product range’, as well as favouring local services, such as post offices, laundry services and pickup and delivery services. Carrefour City introduce over 7000 ESL graphic labels, provided again by Pricer. The two companies share a common interest in providing a care-free and easy shopping experience for the customer. ‘The shopper is in such a hurry and needs to be guided without being constantly bothered by products and services that do not concern him.’ Charles Jackson reveals in an article for Retail Times. ‘Pricer enables the store to display the right price at the right time, to bring more information directly to the shelf edge, to highlight products and improve reliability and scalability.’

Video showing how Pricer Smart Tags are used in a supermarket's shelf

ESL by DisplayData

ESL by DisplayData

And it doesn’t just end there. Coop Denmark’s partner Kvickly Supermarkets will also be installing ESLs across all its stores, working also alongside Displaydata. Displaydata will roll out new three-colour ESLs, and Coop Denmark have already implemented ESLs in over 300 stores nationwide. ‘We look forward to Coop Denmark implementing our three colour ESLs.’ Martin Smethurts, SVP for global sales and marketing at Displaydata, says. ‘There continues to be an acceleration of interest from retailers wishing to amplify the in-store shopping experience, and that ESLs are the ideal technology platform for this.’

The future of ESL’s 

ESLs are expected to grow very quickly in the next few years and completely change the consumer experience. Gene Wojciechowski, former CIO of Walmart says ‘Retail is detail - consumers want to understand to the smallest details where the goods are and how up to date they are. The desire for information is huge, and ESLs can provide that.’ 

*source:marketsandmarkets