Smart Shelf Tech Enhances Retail Sales and Eases Inventory Management

Even the most mundane tasks such as grocery shopping are getting a boost from IoT technologies. While consumers benefit from targeted marketing and contactless interactions, retailers can increase profits with data-driven insights regarding purchasing patterns and inventory management.


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Image credit: Cooler Screens

Going shopping is getting easier as the Internet of Things expands into the realm of grocery stores. New technologies allow customers the convenience of shopping quickly, while simultaneously providing stores with buying patterns and inventory information.

Smart displays and smart shelf technologies allow companies to monitor in real-time which products customers are looking at and putting in their carts. In some cases, IoT technologies even handle customer checkout with fully automated contactless systems.

Indoor Digital Billboards

Some Walgreens stores in the Chicago area now have a row of glitzy digital display panels on the coolers where the refrigerated items are kept, thanks to a partnership with Chicago-based Cooler Screens. The doors on the refrigerated section of the stores look like vertical billboards, displaying images of the products inside, but they can do much more. 

The fridges have embedded cameras and sensors in addition to the display panels, enabling companies to display targeted marketing messages and coupons to customers based on a variety of preset factors, such as a person’s gaze or outside elements such as the weather. In some cases, the smart fridge can track which items a shopper selects or looks at—information that can be sent to advertisers to validate the success (or failure) of a marketing messaging. Display product placement can shift easily as it is digital. For example, ice cream could get premium visual placement on a hot afternoon, but caffeinated sodas or ice coffee might take over that position in the morning, or beer on Superbowl Sunday. Store promotions, product advertisements, and even nutrition facts and calories for specific products can also be displayed digitally on a Cooler Screen freezer door.

Shelf Innovation

Another innovation in shelving is Shekel Brainweigh smart shelf technology, which also monitors customer shopping patterns but uses product weights rather than visual monitoring. The company’s Product Aware Shelf (PAS) combines load and weight sensors, digital scale technology, embedded software, deep-learning algorithms, and cloud-based AI and analytics to identify each product on the shelf and its location.

four shelves of different store goods

Image credit: Shekel Brainweigh

The PAS recognizes which products are removed from the shelf and whether they are returned to the shelf, even if they are placed in a different location. All of that data is sent to the cloud, which is then analyzed to alter inventory and ordering processes.

The Product Aware Shelves can be used to upgrade existing grocery store shelves or in combination to create a Product Aware Bay, which can be used as a standalone unit, such as an endcap, in the store. The PAS are also part of Shekel’s intelligent vending machine solution, called Innovendi.  

Knowing what is on the store shelves is critical in an industry where shrink—the loss of inventory as a result of theft, shoplifting, error, or fraud—costs retailers $46.8 billion annually. According to industry research, supermarket shrink averages 2.7 percent of overall sales, and nearly two-thirds of that loss is the direct result of ineffective operating practices, including poor inventory management.

A New Kind of Store

Monitoring buying patterns is critical for purchasers, but Amazon is tackling that from another angle—consumer convenience. The online retail giant opened a supermarket in the Woodland Hills area of Los Angeles that is testing the Dash Cart, an IoT-laden grocery cart that allows a shopper to forgo the traditional checkout line. The Dash Cart is equipped with a ring of cameras, a scale, and a touchscreen. It uses computer vision and weight sensors to identify which items, and how many, are placed in the cart. Shoppers purchasing produce can enter the price look-up, or PLU, code on the touchscreen prior to adding it to the cart, which weighs the item before adding it to the order.

Prior to shopping, the user has to sign into his or her Amazon account on a mobile phone and scan it upon entering the store. The cart can link to Amazon’s Alexa shopping lists and features a built-in coupon scanner. Rather than using self-check-out or having a cashier ring up groceries, Dash Cart users exit through a separate digital checkout lane that doesn’t require human interaction for checkout or payment.

The use of IoT technologies is making it easier and faster for customers to shop, while providing stores with data that can save them thousands in lost or spoiled inventory. Intel is helping developers, like Shekel Brainweigh embrace the change with its Intelligent Vending Solutions and its Open Retail Initiative. The ORI encourages technology companies to collaborate on IoT-based solutions that provide retailers with granular customer and operational data, which translates to a better bottom line.


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