How the Next Generation of Retail Brings Brick-and-Mortar Into the Digital Age

graphical user interface, application

Today’s digitally savvy consumers demand a modernized in-store shopping experience that incorporates what they love about online shopping. That’s the promise of digital retail: With technology that simplifies access to the latest and most relevant product information, consumers can make more informed in-store decisions to best fit their budgets, taste and health preferences.

At the same time, brands are looking for new opportunities to market their products at the point of sale. Historically, brands have had limited visibility into the effectiveness of their in-store advertising and merchandising, and limited influence on consumers in the “last mile” before purchase. Digital retail could be an opportunity to increase that influence and measure consumer response to media buys in real time.

Retailers must reimagine the in-store consumer experience to meet both consumers’ and brands’ needs while simultaneously protecting consumer privacy. Previous generations of digital retail and Big Tech companies have relied on capturing personal data and linking it to individual buyers to deliver new insights and make sales. But new standards and expectations are emerging for the next generation of advertising. In this context, digital retail has to think differently, designing brand safety and consumer privacy into all aspects of any technology and operating model used.

In 2018, Walgreens posed several challenges to Cooler Screens, related to consumer experience, brand advertising and privacy. Our solution was to transform the cooler aisle customer experience in three key ways.

1. A modern in-store experience customers love

Cooler Screens developed a proprietary digital merchandising platform, replacing old cooler aisle doors with new digital smart screens that seamlessly integrate into the existing retail environment. Consumers can instantly and easily access the most relevant and up-to-date inventory and product information in-store — just like when they are online. During a 2019 pilot program in 50 Walgreens stores, more than 80% of consumers said the screens made products more appealing and easier to locate.

2. An opportunity to enter the digital media business

With Cooler Screens, Walgreens was able to tap a massive growth opportunity by joining the digital media ecosystem. For the first time, brands were able to digitally engage consumers in the cooler aisle and deliver contextually relevant messaging at the point of sale. Meanwhile, real-time analytics improved visibility into performance. Advertised products grew 2-10x faster vs. non-advertised products in stores with Cooler Screens digital doors.

3. An “identity-blind” business model

Cooler Screens’ high-resolution smart screens and sensors track inventory management and product placing, count foot traffic and gauge consumer interactions — but the technology is “identity-blind.” Cooler Screens is a consumer-safe platform that avoids the privacy risks of other digital commerce platforms by never gathering or storing personally identifiable information. We have fully embraced and adopted “Privacy by Design,” a rigorous framework developed by privacy advocates to advance user privacy.

The future of digital retail

Consumers deserve a far better experience than what is available today in brick-and-mortar retail. Digital retail solutions must modernize the in-store shopping experience by improving information access, relevance and transparency, while also eliminating privacy risk and enabling brands to engage with consumers in new, more meaningful ways.

Arsen Avakian is CEO and co-founder of CoolerScreens.