The Frozen Food Aisle Goes Digital

The Lempert Report
April 12, 2019

It appears now that Walgreens is piloting new “smart” coolers that will serve you tailored ads in real time, according to Slate.

A couple of years ago I was invited to Panasonic’s test facility in New Jersey to witness first hand new innovations that the company hoped would change retail. While some I questioned, like scanning a barcode on a billboard while driving at 70 miles an hour to order the product showcased (for safety, not tech reasons). One did stand out. Being able to project an image on the glass door of a frozen food case that could 1] entice shoppers to open the door and buy what was inside and 2] hide the ugly moisture and fog that many of the glass doors are covered with.

It appears now that Walgreens is piloting new “smart” coolers that will serve you tailored ads in real time according to Slate. I’m not sure if Panasonic technology is part of the solution from FullDoorOfVideos2 from Cooler Screens, but as Shannon Palus found, she was “greeted by door-length digital screens displaying images of food and drink. They beam pictures clearly designed to look like the ordinary drugstore cooler lineup—rows of sodas, flavored water, and ice cream with ever-escalating levels of candy mix-ins. I open up a door featuring a row of images of Lipton iced tea (complete with price tags and a current deal), and find rows of actual bottles of tea. The peach tea was out of stock. The screen, having sensed this, accordingly grayed out an image of the flavor.”

Cool tech and certainly an energy saver but what she found was that in addition to the flashy ads and “smart” merchandising, these screens are equipped with sensors and cameras designed to watch and profile the appearance and actions of customers who find themselves in their path. Again similar to the technology that Panasonic had demonstrated to me years before. It calculates, approximate age and gender. How long one’s gaze lingers on the bottles. Whether being emotionally moved by an ad prompts one to grab a can of the product being advertised.

Coupled with data on the time of day, weather, and special events, this could well be the ultimate marketing machines – and turn off to shoppers.

I love tech, but we have to understand when pop ups that know what we want to buy before we do and supermarkets that track everything we do may not be the future of food retailing that our shoppers desire, or will use.