Can tailored digital video messaging transform grocery end-caps?

Apr 25, 2017
John Karolefski

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the monthly e-zine, CPGmatters.

The Coca-Cola Co. recently rolled out a new digital signage system attached to endcaps located in the center store of supermarkets to deliver branded video and e-coupons to customers.

The plug-and-play system, powered by a mix of Google Cloud technologies, works on any HDMI-ready display. The digital signage can tailor content messaging to approaching shoppers based on data on their smartphones. Targeted messaging can range from brand campaigns to store-specific promotional offers or even app-guided shopping lists.

“We can understand who the consumer is and get the right content and messaging to him or her at the right time,” Greg Chambers, Coke’s global group director of digital innovation, said on “We’re using the power of the cloud to bring a real-time, media-rich experience to shoppers in the store.”

Mr. Chambers said a 250-store pilot with Albertsons delivered a one-month return on investment. “We also significantly increased category lift,” he added, “which means not only did the end-caps help sell more Coca-Cola products … everything else on the carbonated soft drink aisle, too.”

The signage-equipped endcaps arrived as the result of a three-year project between Albertsons and Coca Cola. Kristin Moulin, who leads shopper marketing for The Coca-Cola Co. in the western U.S., described the process in a recent presentation in New York at the Shopper Marketing Summit. The project was launched after the grocer noticed fewer grocery shoppers were venturing down the beverage aisle and soda sales were slumping.

Digital screens arrived in 2016 as part of the project so content could be updated quarterly. Today, the endcap display — highlighted by a huge iconic Coke bottle — serves as a beacon to stop shoppers in their tracks and provide value by presenting consumers with the right product in the right package for the right meal occasions.

Ms. Moulin said trips down the aisle increased and the sales decline reversed for the whole category.

“It was important to the customer to see category growth,” Ms. Moulin said. “If the Coke brand won, and the other brands didn’t, it was not a win for the customer.”


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What potential do you see in using digital signage to tailor content messaging at the store level? Should in-store digital signage content be personalized based on individual shopper data or should it remain more generic advertising and product information?

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18 Comments on "Can tailored digital video messaging transform grocery end-caps?"

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Max Goldberg

This signage has a potentially huge creep-out factor if it captures data from a shopper’s smartphone and uses it to produce an offer. Generic advertising and product information would be more appropriate. Retailers should think twice before allowing brands to collect and use personal data in real time.

Keith Anderson

There is a strong incentive for brands like Coca-Cola to invest in equity-building displays as opposed to pure price promotions. Video and personalization can both be engaging and effective, but 1:1 personalization in a public or semi-public setting would likely be overkill and could be alienating. Store-level messaging, however, has big potential. Versioning messaging based on day-part, known shopper personas, a store’s individual selection and other factors might strike a good balance between relevance and discretion.

Kim Garretson

With the data on beacons pushing messages to individual phones demonstrating lower-than-forecast performance for increasing sales, this is an intriguing alternative. Instead of pestering the shopper with their own screens dinging from beacon-triggered messaging, this system lets the individual shopper glance at the screen for more engaging content based on the size of the screen and decide to take action like either veering into that aisle or ignoring the messaging.

Bob Amster

Max is on the right track. Rather than the retailer being indebted to a specific brand or brands, the retailers themselves should implement the technology and promote the products they feel they should promote, when they want to promote them. This also offers a more level playing field to other brands, where there may be more margin for the retailer. How many brands can a retailer allow to take prominent space in their stores with such displays?

J. Peter Deeb

Why not? If married to the shopper card of the consumer real incentives can be delivered that will produce results for categories. The creep factor is no different than receiving coupons at checkout based on past purchases. As long as the identity of the shopper is sacred, this is a better way to deliver targeted promotions.

Sterling Hawkins

The key is having the value exchange such that consumers look at it as a value-add and not simply a loss of privacy. Done right, there’s a sweet spot between a retailer’s best customers and a brand’s best customers, which can clearly pay off in ROI for all involved.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

Results count … everything else is conversation.

I’m a huge proponent of retail stores doing more controlled tests. Amazon’s innovation is based upon “failing rapidly.” Stores need to find out what gets noticed and what produces measurable sales results. Based upon this article there were sales and category uplifts across 250 stores which appears to be very significant.

However, the article also mentions a “one month return on investment.” The danger is that the results could be due to the “Hawthorne Effect” — anything new in an environment will change behavior for a short period of time.

The question is whether the results will be sustainable over time and what variables must change in order to sustain results.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

All the impact analytics presented in this use case reflect trials and use in other dynamic signage messaging. Media in retail moves all the needles and is especially effective when targeted to a demographic and messaging is in the context of the “day part,” current events (i.e. sports, weather) etc. Messages do not need to be personalized, but a near-field communications capability can send a generic message to a mobile phone based on proximity. Where do displays go next in grocery retail? Deli, shelf-level, cooler doors and checkout, for branding, promotion and to reduce perceived wait time and assure items are added to the shopping list on the next visit. And displays will be used to profile the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker on location that reinforce the promise of value.

Adrian Weidmann

While digital signage was integrated into Coke’s “iconic endcap,” it’s unclear whether the Coke bottle design (like a category emojii!) drew people’s attention to the category and/or what role did the digital signage and its content play in the results? It would be very interesting to learn the efficacy of different types of content to the overall results.

The invaluable insight is that it is imperative to the retailer that the entire category recognizes a sales lift — not just the specific brand being promoted — via digital signage or any other technology. Content design and strategy will play a significant role in what and how the success is recognized.

Ken Lonyai

I suppose that if you have no background in experiential technology this seems like something new, but it’s not, it’s just finally gotten the attention of someone with financial impetus.

As each new technology comes to the fore (digital signage, QR codes, beacons, etc.) there’s a buzz about how it’s the solution to every marketer’s problems. The reality is that in-store experiences, particularly technology-based ones, need to be technology agnostic and, instead, based on user needs/desires. For some shoppers beacons to phone messaging will work, for others this type of signage and for others various forms of interactive engagement. It’s going to take a long view to truly know what mix of technologies in what settings and demographic markets provide the best results. There are some downsides to personalized messaging via signage too, so I wouldn’t bet the farm too quickly that this is the radical breakthrough Coke has been waiting for.

Ben Ball

It is going to be very hard to separate the impact of the personalized messaging from the “wow factor” of the display vehicle itself for the first several months at least. For now, Coke certainly has first-mover advantage in the stores with this type of display. That advantage may well be extended by the sheer volume and value of their category and brand. The advantage will only be available to smaller categories and brands when the retailer has permanent installations that can be rented on a promotional basis. The biggest question in my mind is, what will happen to the effectiveness as the technology becomes commonplace? If it ever does?

Brandon Rael

The retailer should control the digital messaging and branding with their consumers. As we all know, there is a very fine line between personalized, curated real time messaging, notifications, experience and the dreaded creep-out factor of overwhelming pinging. The retailer should have complete authority to control the messaging and real-time notifications and allow their consumers to control the journey via privacy controls on their smartphone.

Consumers first and foremost choose a brick-and-mortar location based on their overall experience with the retail brand, overall sentiments, loyalty and sense of community/belonging. By enabling the brands to autonomously message your consumers, you are introducing a layer of complexity that will be extremely challenging to control.

Lee Kent

Digital signage is always fun when it first arrives. Everyone wants to see it. Especially if it’s well done as I expect Coke’s was. After a while, it can easily become just passe unless it’s helpful or adds some level of value to the customers journey. Advertising is not likely to do the trick and personalization may just be a bit too creepy. Keep it fun, entertaining and most of all helpful to create a great customer experience.

For my 2 cents.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

You’ve made a key point Lee. All promo materials get stale, made the shorter with location visit frequency as is the case for grocery stores with 2-3 visits to the same location and isles per month.

The most successful retail uses take advantage of the calendar, clock and even weather. Walmart knows for example that a light breeze and temperature just above 80 degrees will cause a run on berries. Coca-Cola knows that an in-shore campaign featuring the polar bears sells more Coke before Christmas, but the day after Dec 25th should be switched to Coca-Cola logo branding to sustain sales levels. Selling against calendar events such as the Super Bowl and major holidays gets more consumer attention.

In-store special pricing can be a reflection of produce shelf life and inventory levels. This contextual promotion is made possible by dynamic signage.

Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
2 years 1 month ago

Putting a huge endcap with a large Coke bottle on it increased sales. No surprise. Physical presence in the store always has a big impact. The screens contributed only a small amount to that increase and the digital tailoring an even smaller amount.

My guess is 80 percent of the impact is the big endcap, 15 percent is the screen and only 5 percent is from all the digital complexity. (These are guesses, but reasonable ones based on measured experience.)

It’s not surprising that the Coke execs credit a digital advancement which is a program they have an extensive career risk on. But that’s weak thinking for us to accept.

What will be important to watch is whether these endcaps can survive the store environment. Having put a lot of video in-store, it’s hard enough to get a simple video to play reliably over an extended period of time (like a couple of months).

Shep Hyken

For this to work, the customer would need to agree for the system to capture the customer’s smartphone data. There are some customers that will embrace it. Some will fight it. Some will be a little freaked out over it. Just as we can choose to receive push notifications, we can have the option of sharing our “phone” with brands we love.

Naomi K. Shapiro

This concept doesn’t have to get stale if it doesn’t get too personal — selling product without the creep-out factor. By keeping it generic, it can increase sales and get people into the beverage section.

Ricardo Belmar

The best digital signage displays are those that seamlessly allow interaction with the customer without realizing it’s digital signage. It should blend into the surroundings and simply be a part of the larger display. Coca-cola has achieved this with their end-cap display. Do we need to separate the display from the screen to attribute proper success? No! The results that matter are the sales data.

This appears to be a winner, although it would be best to look at some longer term data to see if it’s just the novelty factor for customers walking buy vs the feeling of real value being delivered.

"Keep it fun, entertaining and most of all helpful to create a great customer experience. "
"The reality is that in-store experiences, particularly technology-based ones, need to be technology agnostic..."
"Done right, there’s a sweet spot between a retailer’s best customers and a brand’s best customers..."

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