Is Your Favorite Store’s Refrigerator Watching You?
By Betsy Burton
Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. recently rolled out new display screens in several of their retail stores. The ultra-thin display screens are the creation of the company Cooler Screens. And are positioned to provide the buyer with digital content (a.k.a. advertising) as well as a “look” into what is supposed to be inside the store refrigerator.
The problem is customers are setting social media on fire with their dislike of the new displays. Now some of the problems were due to an implementation issue in that customers were opening the refrigerators and not finding the products that were on display in the refrigerator. However, this issue aside, customers were also complaining about it being confusing, feeling bombarded with advertising, and that they just want to see what they are buying.
What Went Wrong?
In an interview with CNN Business, the CEO and co-founder of Cooler Screens stated that they were solving a “real consumer problem.” What problem? From a consumer point of view, most people are just fine going to a store refrigerator, looking through the glass door to see what they want. They can immediately see if it is available, see the price and, more importantly, pick the exact product they want before opening the door.
The biggest problem with this solution is that it isn’t being done for the benefit of the consumer. It is digital evolution (not transformation) for the benefit of the retailer, the product producer, and Cooler Screens.
Cooler Screens Retail Media Network
Cooler Screens is setting up a retail media network whereby they charge the product provider (e.g. beverage manufacturer, ice cream producer) for advertising their product, and Cooler Screens and the retailer get a cut of the advertising.
Each time a Coke advertisement splashes across the screens, Cooler Screens and Walgreens get a chunk of advertising revenue.
Cooler Screens Information Economy
In addition, Cooler Screens is collecting data outside the refrigerator about everyone walking by and looking at the products in the store refrigerator. And, they are tracking facial data, and any activity, such as removing and replacing products, in the refrigerator. This data can then be used, sold, analyzed to target advertising to diverse consumers.
But even so, it can customize advertising based on assumptions made about the consumer.
Say a family walks by with their children. The Cooler Screens can use this information to display ice creams that are attractive to an age group of children. Even run an advertisement with a popular singer/character targeting the children. You think you had a hard time controlling kids buying urges in the past? Now the companies can actively target you and your kids on the fly based on analytics of buying patterns and desires.
Will Consumers Revolt?
There may be some consumers who won’t shop at stores that use these screens. However, most people will be unaware of how much data is being collected about them and how much they are being manipulated. They may not be thrilled with the new screens, but if there is enough advertising revenue and consumer information collection retailers will use them.
Let’s be honest, this solution is not for the benefit of the consumer. It isn’t bridging the gap between online buying and in-store buying. It isn’t solving a consumer problem. It isn’t business transformation. It is traditional brick-and-mortar retailers struggling to find any increase in revenues during a difficult time. It may increase product and advertising revenues but doesn’t significantly improve consumer experience or increase customer loyalty.
Be careful and wary of technology solutions in search of a problem. And don’t confuse it with real business transformation. The return on investment will be largely tactical, and not significantly change your business strategy, brand, or market position.