Will smart shelves work for Hannaford and its customers?

Photo: Getty Images
Jan 03, 2019
Matthew Stern

Grocery shoppers at the new, tech-enhanced Hannaford concept will find information on the products they’re buying easily available, right when they lift them off the shelf.

Hannaford, the 181-store regional U.S. supermarket chain owned by Ahold Delhaize, has been piloting a new concept with a few significant high-tech enhancements, according to Central Maine. The concept, currently limited to one store, features touch screens adjacent to smart shelves in some categories. When shoppers pick products from shelves, it signals the touchscreens to display relevant product information. Other new tech includes LED displays showing ads in some refrigerated cases and a touch screen kiosk in the pharmacy customers can use to get information on medicines.

The touch screen/smart shelf integration is a first for Hannaford, but it’s one of many attempts by grocers to make use of technology at the shelf to enhance the shopping experience.

Kroger, for instance, has been slowly increasing the size of its smart shelf pilot over the last few years. The solution offers personal pricing and product selections to customers on their mobile devices as sensors detect their presence in store aisles.

Smart shelves are also emerging as a potential solution to support Just Walk Out technology. Zippin, a provider creating a Just Walk Out solution that’s competitive with Amazon Go, touts smart shelf technology that can determine whether a product has been moved as the key to its enhanced accuracy.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you see as the greatest benefits to integrating smart shelf/touch screen technology in grocery stores such as Hannaford? What must retailers do — and avoid doing — to make the most effective use of the technology?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Smart shelves are long overdue."
"Smart shelves are still a technology looking for an industry challenge to address. It is too expensive to be an effective productivity tool."
"Hannaford’s test is a good move in better understanding their customer and customer habits, but the tech isn’t designed for driving significant value yet."

Join the Discussion!

18 Comments on "Will smart shelves work for Hannaford and its customers?"

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Dave Bruno

Without question, as screen fatigue continues to expand, smart shelf technology will be popular with shoppers. As crazy as it may seem, screen fatigue is a real thing. If you don’t believe me, just ask Alexa. The more we can eliminate the need for people to open their phones, download apps, scan codes, etc., the higher the potential for engagement.The question (and ongoing, evolving challenge) for Hannaford will be whether the content they are presenting at the shelf significantly impacts conversions.

Sterling Hawkins

Content continues to be king. I’m with Dave on this one. Keeping the imagery and copy fresh, relevant and engaging will be key to Hannaford’s success. What not to do? Implement this tech because it seems popular without a game-plan for keeping it up over time.

Neil Saunders

I am not opposed to the use of technology, nor do I think this is a bad idea. However, Hannaford really needs to get the basics right before it starts toying around with fripperies such as smart shelves. Most of its stores are unimpressive, its prices are way too high, and its own-label development is lacking.

There was an attempt at a new store format some time ago in Bedford, New Hampshire. This included new foodservice concepts and much better counters. However, it was far from cutting-edge and has not really been rolled out to many other shops. As such, Hannaford continues to lose share in New England to other players – including an expanding Aldi, a price-focused Market Basket, and others. This latest initiative won’t do much to change that dynamic.

Ken Lonyai

A similar system that I designed called LiftOff debuted in 2001. Although today’s technology is different, the principle experience holds. LiftOff was very effective at engaging consumers digitally with physical products, so I know that current systems can do the same if (big IF), they are not overdone.

If every product lift triggers a content response, information overload will kick in and consumers will ignore what they see on screen. These types of deployments are best suited for featured displays so that they maintain a state of curiosity and wonder that shoppers control.

Dave Nixon

The benefits retailers will see are twofold. One, more informed decisions at the time of purchase (discounts and product info) which will drive a percentage of uplift, but second, the ability for a retailer to have one more personalization touchpoint using near-field technology. Make the content on the displays relevant to the specific shopper and you bridge the gap from anonymous store shopping to personalized store experience.

Bob Amster

While there are many benefits to be derived, the most important would be delivering meaningful product information to the shopper, including pricing. This, however, requires high coordination with the product manufacturers so that a high standard of “meaningful” can be maintained. There is also an opportunity to cross-sell by suggesting ancillary products and even suggesting recipes.

Art Suriano
Technology is excellent and can provide so many conveniences. However, it can also be annoying, frustrating and at times a complete turnoff. Through the decades we have seen so many failed attempts to “enhance” the shopping experience that often turned out to be the opposite. Let’s start with ads as the article mentioned in the freezer section. Years ago, we had the brilliant idea of putting in TV screens over the registers for customers to watch while waiting in line. Does anyone see those screens anymore? It turned out customers hated them because all they presented were non-stop ads. Today we all use self-checkout because it’s quicker than waiting in line. However, how many of us can honestly say we never have an issue when using it? When that happens, we get angry and frustrated, forced to wait for an associate to come over to help us out; an associate who is often tied up helping other customers who are also having issues. So rolling out new technology is excellent, but it’s imperative that it… Read more »
Zel Bianco

Providing the right content and the appropriate amount of content will be key if this is to be successful. My concern is will it be too much to navigate, both in the information being displayed, when most people want to make the trip as quickly as possible and will this technology make the aisles even more cluttered with shoppers and carts standing around while they read?

Jennifer McDermott

Smart shelves are long overdue. I would like to see how adopters will use intelligence gained from what people are picking up and purchasing, or discarding before check out, to cross-sell while addressing consumer concerns around privacy from data capture/personalized targeting.

Ron Margulis

Smart shelves are still a technology looking for an industry challenge to address. It is too expensive to be an effective productivity tool. Payback of a typical system would be more than 10 years. And attempts to pass off the costs to manufacturers have failed because smart shelves simply haven’t proven to deliver nearly the same impact on consumer behavior as other marketing tools.

The bottom line is that whenever smart shelves have gained some publicity due to either advances in the technology or greater concentration on the issues the technology is trying to address, other applications have been deemed more critical and justifiably received the resources.

Joel Rubinson

OK, I don’t get it. The number one problem is finding the product you are looking for and I don’t see how this helps that problem (although technology could be designed to address THAT purpose). Another screen for information is not needed — did they ever hear of smart phones?

Ken Morris

For products that are complex or those that commonly call for customers to read their package labels, the smart shelf/touch screen technology will be helpful. A good example is for medicine, which notoriously has print on packages that is too small to read. This technology won’t be needed for basic items like produce, meats, dairy, and other staples like flour, sugar, etc. as consumers don’t need more details on these products. The pricing opportunity may have the biggest benefit to both customers and retailers as individualized pricing and promotions will drive both acceptance and sales. The key will to be to focus the technology on the most relevant products and make sure it is easy and works flawlessly. Test, test, and test.

The biggest problem with gaining consumer acceptance with new technology is ease of use. If it makes my shopping experience complex and cumbersome, I won’t use the technology and neither will most consumers.

Ananda Chakravarty

There are multiple parts to the smart shelf — both the sensor where it can be used for determining who picked what and the display where it’s an extension of digital signage. The latter has been a constant and is growing slowly and in places where digital signage is economical such as QSR menus. The former is more powerful as an internal tool for the retailer to determine what customers are actually doing in the store. Are they picking up items and putting them back? Are they purchasing? How long do they need to review something to make a decision?

Hannaford’s test is a good move in better understanding their customer and customer habits, but the tech isn’t designed for driving significant value yet. We’ll see a combination of these tech tools with things like dynamic pricing in the future store. The ROI for smart shelves is a bit further out, except maybe in POP displays or centralization of in-store marketing, with limited screens and scale.

James Ray

Data empowered IOT devices like the smart shelf are the future of retail. Consumers will accept them as a convenience and the retailers will utilize them as part of their loss prevention solution when selling in vending micro markets and cashier-less environments.

John Karolefski

The Hannaford store reminds me of the Store of the Future that I toured in 2016 at the international Expo Milano in Italy. The grocery chain involved was Coop Italia, which later installed the technology in a real store in a Milan suburb. For example, augmented reality screens above the produce fixtures analyze the fruits and vegetables that shoppers pick up. On the screens, shoppers can read information about nutrition, origin, and possible alternatives. Shoppers are engaged and the store is reportedly doing well.

W. Frank Dell II

Too often the vision is narrow for new technology. Covering new ground takes money and time to develop. The real problem is, there is no long-term strategy, only a list of onesies. We simply don’t know what the real future for technology is as so many concepts are one hit wonders.

The idea of showing the package information on a screen will get old fast. The problem is, consumers are accustomed to continued change to satisfy a short attention span. This application is better than nothing as consumers don’t bother to read the labels we have today. What may be more useful might be to educate on how to cook or use in making a meal. Frequently changing the message for 30K+ items is not an easy task, but it is what is needed short term.

Kai Clarke

Controlling store inventory and pricing better is a great concept, but smart shelves are just one way to do this. Smart shelves are an expensive way to capture information, which could easily be captured at the check stand and through regular inventory updates. To pay and manage the costs for smart shelves is simply too much. Smart shelves are an expensive solution looking for a problem. Instead, Hannaford should focus on better pricing, inventory control, eliminating out-of-stocks, time-to-market, maximized product offering, and product placement.

Howard Davidson

How can we not applaud ANY effort to integrate digital technology into the shopping experience? Sure some will get it wrong – but many will get at least some things right to encourage continued testing and investment to determine the best path to deliver a better shopper experience for the customer – and drive more revenue for the retailer. Thinking about all the possibilities – app integration, automated pricing, interactive product messaging, lowering of store labor costs – I believe adoption of smart shelf technology WILL more than pay off the operational costs and will likely even provide a new revenue stream. Keep the pedal to the metal!

"Smart shelves are long overdue."
"Smart shelves are still a technology looking for an industry challenge to address. It is too expensive to be an effective productivity tool."
"Hannaford’s test is a good move in better understanding their customer and customer habits, but the tech isn’t designed for driving significant value yet."

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