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Despite their slow rollout, smart shelves continue to offer massive promise for retailers. Consider just a few of the benefits that grocers such as Kroger have realized in pilot tests of smart shelf technology.

First, stockouts have decreased substantially. The smart shelves can sense inventory levels and prompt store managers to restock as soon as the product levels reach a critical point. Thus, shoppers are far less likely to encounter an empty shelf, because someone will have restocked the popular item already. The efficiency of the process also minimizes costs (e.g., labor, inventory) to the store.

Second, smart shelves can move merchandise that is selling slowly. For example, if few consumers have purchased a particular product, the smart shelf can issue a money-saving offer immediately after a potential buyer picks it up from the shelf. Rather than wait patiently for the valuable shelf space, the retailer thus might offer a 2-for-1 deal to clear the unpopular item from shelves more quickly.

Third, Kroger notes the personalization promise of smart shelves, working in conjunction with its app. If shoppers keep the Kroger app open while they shop, the smart shelves can access pertinent information, such as their shopping lists or past purchases. Then if distracted shoppers pass by an item on their list, the shelf can alert them. It also can offer price promotions on items they may not have tried yet. As an example, the Kroger CIO suggests that a consumer who has self-identified as being on a gluten-free diet could stand in front of a smart shelf of protein bars and see the gluten-free options clearly highlighted by the shelf itself.

Fourth, because they can change dynamically, smart shelves can provide expanded nutrition information for consumers who request it. They also can change prices quickly and without requiring labor-intensive efforts from store clerks.

Such benefits seem unquestionable. Thus the main question that remains is why it’s taking so long for retailers to adopt smart shelves more widely.

Discussion Question:

  1. How are stores using smart shelves?

Source: Tom Ryan, Retail Wire, February 28, 2016. See also Kim S. Nash, “At Kroger, Technology Is Changing the Grocery-Store Shopping Experience,” The Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2017