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An Introduction to Electronic Shelf Labels

If you’re a forward-thinking retailer, constantly seeking avenues to elevate your business, you’ve likely encountered a game-changing innovation in the retail landscape: Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs). 

Far from being a fancy addition on store shelves, these digital tags signify a profound evolution in how retailers manage pricing, information, and customer interaction. Especially in an age where online stores are adding competitive pressure on brick-and-mortar stores, ESLs are a great way to hop on the competitive bandwagon. 

In this article, we’ll delve into Electronic Shelf Labels, exploring their functionality, operational mechanisms, and the pivotal advantages they offer to retailers.

Understanding ESLs

At its core, an Electronic Shelf Label (ESL) is a digital display that replaces traditional paper labels on store shelves. These labels are wirelessly connected to a central system, allowing retailers to update pricing and product information in real-time across all ESLs within a store or even across multiple locations. This dynamic information encompasses a wide array of data, including pricing, product names, descriptions, and even images. Gone are the days of manual price alterations by store staff, eliminating the need for reprinting labels and minimizing paper wastage.

Juice boxes and cold drinks in a commercial refrigerator with electronic shelf labels

How ESLs work

ESLs operate through a combination of hardware and software components. Each label typically consists of a display panel (usually e-paper display), a microcontroller, and a wireless communication module. The microcontroller receives commands from the central system and controls the display accordingly, while the wireless module ensures seamless communication between the ESL and the backend infrastructure. This could be infrared or radio frequency communication (RFID, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, NFC…).

Here are a few different types of of ESLs commonly used:

  1. Wi-Fi ESLs: ESLs with Wi-Fi connectivity establish a wireless connection to the store’s Wi-Fi network. This connection allows the ESLs to communicate directly with the central system, which typically consists of a backend server or cloud-based platform. Retailers can remotely manage and update pricing, product information, and promotional campaigns through the central system. Wi-Fi ESLs offer real-time synchronization, enabling instant updates across all ESLs within a store or multiple store locations.

  2. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) ESLs: The ESLs are equipped with Bluetooth transceivers that establish a connection with a BLE gateway or hub installed within the store. The gateway acts as an intermediary between the ESLs and the central system, relaying commands and updates to the ESLs. Retailers can use a dedicated software application or a cloud-based platform to manage and update ESLs remotely. BLE ESLs are suitable for applications requiring proximity-based interactions and personalized content delivery.

  3. RFID ESLs: ESLs equipped with RFID technology communicate with the central system through RFID readers installed throughout the store. The RFID readers continuously scan for nearby ESLs and transmit data to the central system. Retailers can update pricing and product information in the central system, which is then broadcasted to the RFID readers and subsequently to the ESLs. RFID ESLs are commonly used for inventory management, asset tracking, and real-time updates of pricing and product information.

Benefits of ESLs to retailers

The adoption of ESLs offers numerous advantages for retailers:

  1. Efficiency: With ESLs, retailers can update prices and product information instantly, eliminating the need for manual label changes. This not only saves time but also reduces the risk of human errors.
  2. Dynamic Pricing: They enable retailers to implement dynamic pricing strategies more effectively. They can adjust prices in response to factors like demand, competition, or even the time of day, maximizing profitability.
  3. Enhanced Customer Experience: ESLs provide consumers with accurate and up-to-date information at the point of purchase. Some have QR codes that can be scanned, and can show the product online, with more detailed descriptions.
  4. Flexibility: ESLs offer flexibility in displaying information. Retailers can showcase not just prices but also additional product details, reviews, or even advertisements, enhancing engagement with customers.

Companies selling ESLs

  • SES-imagotag: SES-imagotag is one of the leading providers of ESL solutions worldwide. They offer a wide range of ESLs, including e-paper and color displays.

  • Displaydata: Displaydata specializes in dynamic digital shelf-edge solutions, including ESLs.

  • Pricer: Pricer is a global leader in providing ESL solutions for retailers. Their ESL offerings include e-paper displays of different types, such as hanging tags.

Conclusion

Electronic Shelf Labels are not just a futuristic concept; they are already in use in many retail stores around the world. By leveraging the latest technology, ESLs empower retailers to streamline operations, enhance customer experiences, and stay competitive in an ever-evolving market. As the retail industry continues to embrace digital transformation, ESLs are poised to play a central role in shaping the future of shopping!

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