ESL: The (Seemingly Endless) Search for Retail Adoption
Bittner, President, BWH Consulting
this year, there are new companies introducing new electronic shelf label
(ESL) systems that they hope will – once and for all – replace paper
labels at the shelf edge in supermarkets.
two years ago, in this space, that I asked the question, “Is
it time for the electronic shelf label?“
I had a
look at W5 Networks, a privately owned ESL start up. W5’s solution appeared
similar to the early, wired versions, using a paper “surround” printed
with the detailed product information and an LCD window to display the
retail and unit price. W5 moved to a wireless network that greatly reduced
their installation cost. Based on some Google searches, it appears, however,
that W5 has been absorbed into another company or dissolved.
one of the new ESL players is ZBD Solutions, which was demonstrating
its new solution in the Innovation Station area at the NRF BIG Show.
ZBD also uses wireless communications to reach the shelf edge but it
removes the need for paper surrounds to carry the product details. Their
monochrome “epaper” display is resolute enough that to carry detailed
product descriptions, which are, of course, updated electronically. In
fact, the tags can contain several screens of data that can be directed
to display unit pricing, emphasize promotions, or help employees with
shelf layout and replenishment.
seemed to be a “no brainer” for at least 20 years, but no one has, it
appears, met the price point necessary for mass adoption in supermarkets.
Special situations in perishables departments have seen implementations,
but the thousands of weekly price changes done in center store are still
executed manually. W5 Networks argued that their costs were justified
by some additional features, such as temperature sensors and interactive
buttons that integrated the tag into the retailer’s shelf and inventory
gone back to a simpler approach, focusing on the display function, but
it is also significant that they have reduced the in-store coordination
involved by eliminating the paper surrounds. The wireless capabilities,
of course, are a great time and money-saver. One small transmitter per
store is all that’s required. Although the per unit cost of the ESLs
is no lower than earlier models, the company claims the system benefits
result in “ROI in as little as 12 months.” ZBD has introduced its system
in other retail verticals – mobile phone and CE stores, for example –
and points to the ability to display “rich content” on the devices, including
branding, logos and product information.
of concern about the ZBD approach is whether it will be accepted by the
various jurisdictions that control Unit Price Labeling requirements today.
One of the reasons earlier vendors stuck with the printed surround was
because it made it easy to comply with various state requirements for
fonts, font sizes, and label colors. The company says regulations will
need to be addressed on a state-by-state basis where such regulatory requirements
exist (and possibly a county-by-county basis), but that the graphical
controls should be adequate to do any customization necessary for compliance.
Questions: What’s holding up the adoption of ESLs? Given the investment,
what retailer benefits would make them a “must-have”?