grocery aisles are getting futuristic update

Walgreens and other retailers are beginning to harness the power of Cooler Screens – a technology that converts transparent cooler doors into full length screens for advertisements. They are attention grabbing and their novelty elicits bedazzled reactions, but they serve as much more than a bright indoor billboard.

These screens are powered by AI to distinguish the viewer’s demographic. This way, targeted ads can be directed at shoppers. They can even discern the emotional response and eye movements if the shopper lingers long enough. This allows for an opportunity to further market other relevant products – for instance, if a young woman is scoping out a pint of low cal Ben and Jerry’s, it’s a prime moment to fire up an ad for Skinny Girl popcorn.

All of this comes under the guise of consumer convenience, in the same way that Amazon Go and Kroger Edge (Business Insider) digital shelves are revolutionizing the shopping experience. But, with the monitoring being so up close and personal, Cooler Screens feel different. As with all new technologies, they come with a set of pros and cons. Here’s a breakdown based on what we know so far.

the good

The placement allows for consumers to directly engage with ads unlike other in-store screens that sit above the line of sight or at ends of aisles, these screens are impossible to ignore

The screen can show what’s actually in the cooler
If a product is out of stock, the consumer will be able to see that before even opening the door. Furthermore, it can give the retailer a heads up about when to restock items.

The items will be easier to read at a glance

Pricing and deal options for the products will be clearly presented, which could be a huge benefit to vision impaired shoppers.

Proven sales growth

CEO and co-founder Arsen Avakian says that in the first two months of its initial pilot, products that were advertised on Cooler Screens had more than 20% year-over-year growth in sales compared to other products. Cooler Screens says it’s also benefiting the Walgreens where it was first piloted in Chicago, which has seen double-digit, same-store sales growth for the Cooler Screens section as compared to the rest of the pharmacy. (Fast Company)

the bad

The ads on screen can obscure what’s actually in the cooler allowing for one ad to dominate the space can cause an annoying delay for the shopper as they make their purchasing choices.

They aren’t touch interactive

It’s easy to assume that the giant screen would be equivalent to an iPad. Consumers could experience confusion about the purpose that the product is meant to serve.

the ugly

It will foster intense competition for ad space. While coolers are filled with a variety of products, the ones featured in the ad will have a huge advantage by dominating the customer’s attention.

With it comes consumer wariness about how their personal data will be used

The company claims that individuals will remain anonymous, but it’s still a cause for suspicion in a world where our data is constantly being mined in unethical ways. Cool Screens remains vague about disclosing exactly how the behavior of the user will be tracked and analyzed.

There will be no way to “opt out”

To piggyback on privacy concerns, the only way to avoid being monitored is to avoid stores that use Cooler Screens at all. But, as this technology becomes more popular, it could mean boycotting your favorite shops.

Currently, only select retailers are using the Cooler Screens – Walgreens being the most notable. Given the success rate thus far, we are sure to see more stores pick it up. It’s allowing retailers a highly tailored way to communicate and sell to their customers. The implication of privacy concerns will probably weigh heavily on the technology’s benefit to the consumer, which remains to be determined. Life enhancing grocery gadget, or another nefarious digital spy tool? Only time will tell.