Brick-and-mortar retail goes digital

Tablet versus shopping mall, scrolling versus browsing, packet delivery service versus shopping bag. In international comparison, online shopping in Germany in 2015 amounted so far to 8.4 percent of overall retail sales, placing it among the top-10 e-commerce countries. That is higher than the worldwide average of 7.3%. By comparison: The United States with 7.1% trail the Germans and are even further behind Britain with 14.4%, the clear leader.

The consequences for retailers are negative: While growth in e-commerce continues, sales on the shop floor are sinking. To avoid the demise of our shopping centers, retailers must adapt the changing needs of customers. But how?

The answer may be surprising, but it is easy: by digitalization! Electronic shelf labeling (ESL) is one path to fresh sales strategies. These miniature signs are increasingly being used for pricing and labeling, such as in France, where 70 percent of retail companies already employ them. The benefits are obvious: Instead of laboriously exchanging price labels by hand, prices are adjusted centrally over the network and displayed directly on the Displays. This saves time and improves efficiency.

In France, the electronic shelf labels even provide protection from prosecution: Retailers must guarantee that prices at the checkout match those on the shelf. If not, things can become expensive.

The benefits of electronic shelf labels go beyond pricing alone. Flexible price adjustment allows retailers to respond in real time and, for example, reduce prices on products if customers are migrating to cheaper deals, or to increase the sales of certain goods in the short term. Also, completely new types of value-added are arising through push-marketing: In conjunction with iBeacons, customers entering a specific area of the shop are automatically informed about the latest offers directly via their smartphone.


Electronic Shelf Label with NFC

Another advantage of online stores is the ability to offer additional information about the product along with the price. NFC technology (Near Field Communication), to be incorporated in future digital displays, uses wireless technology for the contactless exchange of data over distances of just a few centimeters. NFC-enabled mobile devices can display information related to the product. For further advice, customers can turn to the shop personnel.

The benefits apply not only for digital price tags, but for the electronic signage throughout the shop in general. For example, larger displays demonstrate product features or attract customers to the latest offers. In the future the smaller shelf labels will also be able to display colors, initially the color red to draw customer attention to special offers.

Wireless infrastructure as the basis

Essential for the use of digital signage is seamless wireless coverage throughout the stores. In the ideal case, several radio techniques are combined in a single infrastructure platform: Conventional Wi-Fi for internal use, the networking of large displays, Wi-Fi hotspots for customers, wireless technology for controlling the electronics shelf labels (especially proprietary systems for optimal power-saving), and iBeacons. This allows promising new applications to be implemented quickly, and it simplifies the work of IT managers as they only have to install and manage one infrastructure. Last but not least, these hybrid access points help to save costs: Interference-free operation significantly extends the life of electronic shelf labels.

By presenting modern wireless applications in-store, retailers also increase their attractiveness to customers and offer a tempting alternative to online shopping. It is not without reason that large retail chains are already making use of Wi-Fi at their stores. Retailers with an attractive Wi-Fi offering also have the potential to merge their own online shop with their brick-and-mortar trade. Employees at the stores could order any out-of-stock goods for the customers directly on mobile devices (e.g. a tablet PC).

What’s more, Wi-Fi and iBeacons are useful for implementing location-based services. These integrate the customers’ mobile devices to provide different location-based services such as providing a floorplan or navigating customers to special offers.

Brick-and-mortar retail has always been closer to the customer, specialized, and personal. These advantages can be combined with a modern, digital shopping experience to offer the customer the best of both worlds.


  1. JC
    January 24, 2017    

    Hey really nice article very informational.

  2. MF
    March 22, 2017    

    Very impressive and helpful article, thank you

  3. June 2, 2021    

    Very good read! well researched article and I agree with all the points mentioned in the article.

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