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April 26, 2016

Electronic Shelf Labels Gaining Traction With Retailers

Electronic Shelf Labels, or ESLs for short, are becoming the “Next Frontier” for retailers.  While ESLs have been around for about 20 years, they have not really gained traction in the US, with the exception of some companies, such as Kohl’s.  Based on their popularity in other parts of the world, I foresee things changing here in the states as the technology becomes more and more adaptable in order to meet retailer needs.

There are several companies that offer ESL products, with several having millions of tags in retailers today.  ESLs come in two variants, LCD and ePaper and communicate via either radio frequency or infrared.  Don’t confuse infrared with basic line-of-sight on a simple TV remote, though.  It is much more functional than that.  I think of it as basic ambient light, which floods a space as light bounces off surfaces.  Generally, ePaper is the most easily readable in any environment and thanks to eInk, it has solid technology behind it, which is ever adapting to new needs in the industry.

Electronic Shelf Labels can also be used in a variety of environments.  They are used in a room temperature environment, coolers and some manufacturers found they can be used in freezers.  They are sanitary and can even be used in a fresh food environment such as a deli case or near prepared food.

Retailers today spend a significant amount of labor dollars on signage and are always relying on their team members for pricing accuracy and shelf label maintenance.  Compliance with pricing is a must so this isn’t always an easy task.  With ESLs, that requirement just got a whole lot easier.

ESLs can integrate directly into POS systems and many other data sources.  Many manufacturers tout labels with multiple “pages”, which allows team members to have visibility to data stored on the label that the customer can’t see.  For instance, there can be product info, stockroom on hands and BOHs, as well as other pieces of information that will help the team member.  Generally, the manufacturer provides a “clicker” of some sort that allows access to these pages.

With over 22 years in retail and now working in the digital realm, I see the product finally becoming more conducive to what retailers are looking for, especially as prices continue to drop and additional colors make their way onto the tags.  With the heavy focus on promotional pricing, requirements for “country of origin” and caloric info, Electronic Shelf Labels will only continue to provide the benefits needed to have the accurate, compliant and easy to read information that retailers require to have a successful shelf edge experience for their customers.

Tim Bennink

Director, Business Development