An interesting topic in retail every now and then is that of electronic shelf-edge labels (ESEL). These have been around for many, years but as yet no one in the UK has deployed them in any quantity. Historically the ESEL has been expensive and semi manual in so much as you had to stick a product ID/barcode to the price display. Too much effort!

This, coupled with the fact they were inflexible and very easily stolen, was detrimental to the use of the systems. Retailers shied away from the high cost of providing these labels and the relative inflexibility of their use. But technology has improved and the latest generations utilise EpaperEink to produce labels that are more cost effective, have improved visibility and provide easier change management.

Why ESEL? The primary benefit of ESEL is the management of prices across a store or group of stores. One key driver in Europe is the punitive fines levied on stores where shelf-edge pricing is incorrect, usually based on the number of items in the store multiplied by the fine, which can run into many thousands of pounds. The UK is less punitive but can still levy hefty fines if needed.

Other benefits include dual pricing when out of normal hours. These should be capable of being timed and dated with ESEL the happy hour concept. Depending on label size you should be able to add marketing information, such as country of origin, a description of the product whether it be a fine wine or other retail SKU and even quality graphics.

One major high street convenience chain is trying ESEL in one of the smaller format stores to evaluate the implications. Two years ago Tesco stated that it takes a week to change prices across the store network whereas the same task with ESEL would take an hour. It is this type of benefit that will drive the technology.

It will take the adoption of electronic labels by a high-street major to enable the rest of us to implement such useful technology. Currently an average cost is £7-10 per label. The benefits will grow as the technology is adopted. Labels exist today that talk to your mobile phone as you approach them. The cherry on the cake will be when POS vendors interface the ESEL to their price files, thus completely automating the process.