Making the Case for Smarter Shelves and Labels
Progressive Grocer|November 2020
WHETHER FOR CONSUMER EXPERIENCE OR INVENTORY MANAGEMENT, THESE SOLUTIONS OFFER REWARDS GOING INTO 2021.
Thad Rueter

In late October — as food retailers continued to deal not only with the pandemic-fueled rise of e-commerce, but also the ongoing trend of consumers seeking more transparency regarding groceries — Fresh Thyme was getting smarter about shelves.

The Downers Grove, Ill.-based food retailer has started deploying ELI codes to shelf tags this month. ELI codes, when scanned by a smartphone, will display important product information, including content from supplier-provided product data and images, to enhance the overall shopping experience. They’re based on QR code technology and can be read natively by most modern smartphones without requiring an app.

The technology will enable customers and employees to access rich-product content at the shelf simply by scanning a QR code with their smartphones — an especially attractive tool for shoppers at Fresh Thyme, which focuses on natural foods.

“When fully executed, the ELI codes will allow our customers to have real-time access to information and education to make well-informed purchases,” says Jonathan Lawrence, Fresh Thyme’s senior director of grocery and natural living. “They have all the benefits of an e-commerce platform experience, with the ability to utilize the product immediately.”

As food retailers embrace omnichannel commerce, and as they seek more efficient ways to manage inventory in this age of pandemic and rising grocery e-commerce, smart shelving and labeling technology offers solutions to those challenges. The technology is poised to grow in 2021, but to achieve successful deployments, as well as earning buy-in from suppliers and shoppers, food retailers need to figure out what they’re really trying to do.

Transparency and Inventory

Product transparency is among the main factors fueling the growth of smart shelving and labeling — some of which relies on cameras that keep track of products on shelves, while other solutions are more anchored to consumer and employee smartphones and their own cameras, as is the case with Fresh Thyme. The technology can help retailers keep up with inventory problems and restocking issues — resolving issues before, say, they start to annoy suppliers or slow down e-commerce fulfillment — as well as serving to keep shoppers better informed about available products.

Indeed, Arlington, Va.-based FMI — The Food Industry Association has found that 81 percent of consumers say product transparency is important in their buying decisions — a demand that smart shelving and labeling technology can help solve, and without making consumers seek out relevant product information via other sources such as Google, which might take a little bit longer and frustrate impatient grocery shoppers who just want to get home.

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