E-Paper on the Retail Shelf

e-paper smart shelves

While e-readers are the most visible application for e-paper technology, smart shelves in retail stores are another excellent fit. Smart shelves would integrate a display in the retail store, which would allow for instaneous price information updating. Studies have shown that retailers could increase revenues if shelf pricing could be maintained and updated more easily. Moreover, if that system could be linked to an inventory system that would allow restocking shelves when empty, it could result in additional revenues and reduced inventory costs.

Disadvantages of Conventional Displays

Conventional displays have a number of disadvantages in this application.  They may be too expensive, too power consuming, or too hard to see when affixed to a shelf.  On the other hand, e-paper can produce small, battery-operated, flexible displays.  E-paper’s potential flexibility can also be an advantage when affixing displays to shelves.  Conversely, e-paper’s current limitation-poor color capability-is not much of a disadvantage in this context.  Color is not a requirement; monochrome displays would be quite capable of displaying most pricing or product information.  When improved color is developed, it would then increase the advertising capabilities of such displays.

There is tremendous opportunity here as stores have ongoing problems with changing prices for promotions and other variables.  Smart shelving would also add value by reducing incorrect pricing on the shelves; the bane of every customer.  From the e-paper industry point of view the volume of displays would be very large because of the number of items in any given store that need pricing information.  Hundreds of displays are likely.  However, such displays would be very small (2 to 3 inches).

ZBD Display

While several companies have indicated that smart shelves are a target application for their technology, only one stands out as a success story-ZBD Displays. Rather a dark horse in the electronic paper sector, ZBD Displays worked for some years on trialing its zenithal bistable display technology at major retail chains in the U.K. and Europe, including Tesco, Dixons and John Lewis. While accumulating over 25 patents, the company developed its technology, while accumulating backers, industrial partners and retail customers alike.

ZBD Electronic Point of Purchase (EPOP) displays are monochrome passive matrix displays (102 mm or 4-inch diagonal with high brightness (39% reflectivity), high contrast (20:1) and an ultra-wide viewing angle (160º). It can hold multiple 320 x 240 pixel bitmap images in its memory at any one time. The displays have a 100-dpi resolution. The electronic point of purchase (epop) display screens are manufactured on near standard TFT production lines in China. The systems are customized to fit seamlessly with existing retail systems for each application.

In the Supermarket

Tesco, a leading international supermarket retailer, operating 1,770 stores in the U.K., partnered with ZBD to trial the epop system. Connected wirelessly to the Tesco Ethernet and integrated with its retail system, the bounce communicator interrogates the product database to identify changes relating to price, promotion or description of any particular product. When a change is identified, the bounce creates new content, which is transmitted to the appropriate epop display unit, which in turn acknowledges the content change and transmits a signal back to bounce. This bounce communicator can drive multiple epop display units within a range of 100 m. The zero power usage between image changes gives the displays a five-year battery life. Subsequently, Tesco has ordered 2,500 electronic point of purchase displays (epops) from ZBD for its latest milestone store for the dry groceries area.

Subsequently,  ZBD secured additional funding and entered several partnerships to enable it to bring its epop retail solution to the global market. The first was Fujitsu Services, whose  expertise in point of sale technology will enable retailers to implement the wireless displays across international and multi-location stores. Other partners include Italian retail software solutions specialist Proxima Centauri Informatica srl and the Nixor Group and its Estonian sister-company ipMedia in the Baltic States.

Replacing Paper Labeling

EMT, the leading mobile telecommunications operator in Estonia, has chosen ZBD’s epop as the centerpiece of a major reformatting of its nationwide store estate. After a successful pilot conversion of ten stores from paper labeling to EPOPS throughout the sales floor, a further 23 outlets will follow at the rate of at least one store per week from mid-January 2009. EMT has entered into an agreement for a total of 5,300 epop500 displays plus store communications infrastructure deployed throughout EMT’s estate.

Finally, SISA, one of Italy’s largest retailers, grocery store operators, has chosen ZBD to provide in-store point of purchase labeling at its largest outlet near Milan. If the project enables overhauling SISA’s fresh fruit and vegetable labeling to comply with Italian regulations, it is planned to initiate an extensive roll-out of the system across SISA’s north western region.

The Next Target

The next target for ZBD? The United States retail market, which saw the introduction of the ZBD innovative retail display technology at the TechPoint conference.

Update September 9, 2009
PCC Natural Markets (PCC), the largest consumer-owned and operated natural foods retailer in the U.S., has announced a partnership with ZBD Solutions (ZBD), making PCC the first Pacific Northwest retailer to adopt ZBD’s electronic point of purchase (epop) technology.

By Linda M. Casatelli

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  1. avatar emit says:

    I can’t wait for it to hit our stores here. These are some great looking price tags :)

  2. avatar leetam says:

    I’ve never ever given much thought about it, but this is a great application for e-paper!

  3. avatar mullet says:

    It’s great that the displays are remotely controlled so that the supermarket people don’t have to go around everyday and change prices one by one if necessary. That’s really convenient!

  4. avatar joseph ohayon says:

    What a great idea. I have had this in mind for over 10 years although my approach was to use a wi-fi network and 2 inch by 4 inch lcd displays to mark prices on the shelf. This way it eliminates errors at the touch of a button.
    Price changes could be done in a click.
    I would like a sample and show it off at my next store meeting.

  5. avatar Egil Mørner says:

    Can you please help us with prices of EPOP 300 and EPOP 500
    + Bounce and software?

  6. avatar Egil Mørner says:

    and very important time of delevering

    Egil Mørner

  7. avatar David Fleischman says:

    We have found ZBD extremely difficult to work with in a timely fashion and are looking for alternatives.

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