With the growing preference for online shopping, combined with customers who can instantly compare prices and reviews with their smartphones, the expectations and needs of the brick-and-mortar shopper are rapidly evolving. As a result, physical retailers have been in a race to deploy new technologies to provide a better experience in the hopes of keeping their customers delighted. For example, retailers have adopted advanced handheld scanners to optimize inventory management; introduced mobile cashiers to speed up the checkout process; and started to replace some paper price tags with smart digital labels to provide dynamic pricing. However, even with all of physical retailers’ investments in innovation and technology, the shift to online shopping has continued.
To date, there have been two kinds of shopping experiences: online and in-store. According to research, consumers like to shop online to “compare prices, find sales, and have a greater variety of options.” On the other hand, many customers like to physically shop in-store to see, touch and try the products in person. While many still prefer to try on pants in person, for example, others feel more comfortable ordering online, especially with flexible online return policies becoming the norm. However, with Real Wireless Power® entering the real world, retailers now have the opportunity to translate the key benefits of the online experience into their physical stores.
For over a decade, retailers have been researching and testing new ways to attract, engage and delight customers in-store to replicate the online experience. Most of these innovations require powered devices. But as more devices help support our efforts to increase awareness and demand for physical retail, so does our need to efficiently and continuously supply power to those devices. Not surprisingly, wires and batteries have been key constraints.
Stopping to charge a mobile tablet or replace batteries in a handheld scanner are often times impractical. These also lead to reduced sales. Alternatively, relying on hard wiring to supply power everywhere isn’t remotely cost effective or even possible in many cases.
Real Wireless Power is changing all that.
The Benefits of Electronic Shelf Labels for Retailers
For example, consider the benefits of electronic shelf labels (ESLs), also called smart digital retail labels. They're digital devices that require continuous, reliable power. These digital screens sit at the shelf edge next to a product offer, and provide:
- automated pricing and promotions;
- cross-promotion opportunities;
- competitive edge over other retailers;
- a low-cost way to change prices in real time based on supply, demand and online comparisons;
- low quantity alerts or dates for restocking; and
- the opportunity to order something out of stock on the spot.
This kind of information enables retailers to improve the in-store customer experience at the shelf, where most purchasing decisions are made, which in turn can optimize revenues and margins. What’s more, ESLs require less labor to switch out printed paper labels and ensures fewer pricing errors.
Customers want real-time promotions, shopping guidance, and instantly redeemable coupons in-store. So why aren’t all retailers installing ESLs? The primary problem is power.
The Challenges of Powering ESLs
When it comes to choosing ESLs, a primary obstacle is getting power to the device. Running electrical wires to shelves can be cost prohibitive for many retailers. Wiring a retail space requires planning, installation, permitting and maintenance. Battery-operated systems can work in the short term, but they limit functionality due to battery size and capacity. More importantly, all batteries eventually need to be removed and replaced.
If you are a big-box retailer, we’re talking about thousands of stores each with a 100,000 SKUs, all relying on batteries. This adds up to billions of batteries needing replacement and disposal.
The good news is the wireless power technology that's needed to power devices like ESLs throughout a large retail environment already exist and are in development. Wireless power eliminates the key limiting factor for ESLs.
The Solution: Wireless Power
Wireless power is a natural progression in the technology of ESLs, as well as other small devices relied upon by retailers, including handheld scanners, security cameras, inventory sensors, temperature-controlled sensors, remote controls, and other interconnected IoT devices.
Wireless power simply requires a small receiver to be integrated within the device, and a transmitter (or group of virtually linked transmitters in a larger space) to provide continuous power and connectivity — all without employee intervention.
Transmitters can be installed into the framework of a retail space, such as a ceiling, invisible to consumers, and can power thousands of small devices simultaneously, even if the devices are at a distance, on the move, or behind objects. With Real Wireless Power technology, no line of sight is required.
Who Benefits From Retailers Leveraging Wireless Power?
It’s not just the retailer that will experience operational efficiencies and other benefits to leveraging wirelessly powered devices in-store. Everyone benefits:
- Employees: Your team on the ground can focus on more important tasks like customer service instead of low-skill tasks like switching out prices, charging devices, or managing batteries.
- Management: Your management team will have the data and tools they need to develop product promotions at the right time in the right place, without down time.
- Customers: Customers will receive the information and guidance they need to make a confident decision in-store, whether it’s to purchase or order something not in stock. You could also offer them wireless power as a service, much like we offer Wi-Fi for data today, if they have a wireless power-enabled mobile device, which may encourage visits and lingering.
- Product Manufacturers: The companies that create useful products for retailers can use wireless power to optimize their product quality and feature set to meet more retailers’ needs.
- The Environment: Because wireless power doesn't require mining for copper or other elements that make up a wire or battery and because it doesn't have any parts that need recycling on a regular basis, like a battery, it’s a sustainable and safe source of power.
Wireless Power for Retail Coming Soon
Because wireless power enables swift, large-scale rollouts; efficiency and speed; and connectivity with the consumer not seen before, many equipment manufacturers and retailers are already partnering with wireless power technology licensors to test and roll out different wireless power applications.
If you’re not considering digital price tags with E Ink displays that allow you to rapidly change prices and data from a centralized server, if you’re not looking to wireless power to enable a future of interconnected devices in your stores, then you may soon find yourself spending a significant amount of time and money doing things that your competitors can do in a heartbeat.
When it comes to evolving the physical experience of a retail store, power is no longer the problem.
Preston Woo is chief strategy officer at Ossia, a technology development company that licenses Cota Real Wireless Power™.