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Smart Shelf: What Retailers Need to Know

A smart shelf is a retail shelf equipped with digital labels and software systems to make the store operations centralized and more efficient.

As a retailer, you always have to make tough decisions and take risks to grow your business—and right now, smart shelves seem like a risk that can transform your operations. Retailers are now opening themselves up to the possibility of smart shelves and for good reasons. To put things into perspective, the smart shelf market size is estimated at USD 3.77 billion this year. It's expected to reach USD 10.29 billion by 2028. But now, the question is this: Are smart shelves and smart digital shelf labels worth it?

Here are the common questions about a smart shelf, and the answers that will help you decide on getting smart shelves for your own business.

#1 What is a smart shelf?

A smart shelf is an innovative version of a retail store shelf, in which technology like digital shelf labels and real-time data are implemented to create a smarter and more efficient store experience.

Also known as "intelligent shelves", smart shelves offer retailers the ability to drive sales and engagement, as well as the ability to seamlessly monitor and optimize shelf stock and inventory. With the help of digital shelf labels, retailers can create smart shelves in their stores that will improve the customer experience, enhance inventory management, enhance shelf replenishment processes, and maximize sales.

In conclusion, smart shelves make the entire retail process more efficient. Retail businesses are more responsive to customer needs, and they provide a better overall shopping experience to their patrons.

#2 How smart shelf labels work

Smart shelf technology is revolutionizing the retail industry by making it easier for customers and retailers to get accurate and up-to-date product information.

With digital labels or electronic shelf labels (ESL) for smart shelves, retailers can display accurate product information in real-time, providing customers with detailed and reliable product data. Smart shelf labels are connected to an internal server or software so that any changes made to the database are automatically synced across the shelves. This ensures product pricing and information are consistently up-to-date. Smart shelf label technology also provides retailers with deeper insights into customer buying patterns. This makes it easier to monitor inventory and adjust marketing strategies or store layouts to boost store sales.

For example, SOLUM's Newton ESL as a digital shelf label solution for smart shelves will surely help centralize retail workflows. Newton labels are equipped with a customizable layout, 10x faster update speed, 7-page capacity, 7-color LED indicator, dustproof and water resistance, programmable buttons, e-ink display technology, near-field communication (NFC) capability, ESL management system, 10-year battery life. All of these features together create a solution that will empower smart shelves in retail.

By using digital shelf labels for smart shelves, retailers can improve the customer experience and ensure their products are always accurately represented.

#3 Common features of a smart shelf label

Digital shelf labels provide advantages over traditional paper labels by allowing real-time updates and beyond. When utilized properly, they help smart shelves in retail stores. Some of the most common features of smart shelf labels include:


  1. Electronic Paper Display (EPD): Smart shelf labels typically use e-ink technology, also known as e-paper or e-ink, which resembles the appearance of ink on paper.
  2. Wireless Connectivity: Smart shelf labels are equipped with wireless connectivity (usually Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) that enables them to receive updates and instructions from a central system, ensuring real-time price changes, promotions, and information updates.
  3. Remote Management: Retailers can centrally manage and control the information displayed on smart shelf labels through a dedicated software interface.
  4. Real-Time Inventory Tracking: Some smart shelf labels can integrate with the store's inventory management system. This enables the brands to display real-time stock levels, allowing customers and staff to quickly identify product availability.
  5. Promotional Messaging: Retailers can use smart shelf labels to display promotional messages, product features, customer reviews, and other relevant information to attract customer attention and drive sales.
  6. Energy Efficiency: Digital shelf labels are energy-efficient since the display only requires power when updating the content. This results in longer battery life for the smart shelf labels compared to continuous display technologies.
  7. Label Design and Customization: Smart shelf labels can be designed to match the store's branding and aesthetics.
  8. Integration with Point of Sale (POS) Systems: Integration with the store's POS system allows for seamless updates of pricing and product information, reducing the chances of discrepancies between the shelf labels and the actual checkout process.
  9. Sensors and Beacons (Optional): In advanced systems, smart shelf labels might include sensors or beacons that interact with customer smartphones, providing additional information or personalized offers through mobile apps.
  10. Analytics and Reporting: Some smart shelf label systems offer analytics and reporting features, allowing retailers to gather insights into customer interactions and engagement with the labels.

#4 Benefits of having smart shelf labels

Smart shelf labels offer a range of benefits to retailers and customers alike. This is due to their advanced technology and real-time capabilities. Here are some key benefits of using smart shelf labels:


  1. Real-Time Price Updates - Smart shelf labels enable retailers to update product prices in real-time, ensuring accuracy and consistency between the shelf price and the checkout price. This reduces pricing errors and customer dissatisfaction.
  2. Efficient Price Changes - Traditional paper labels require manual updates, which can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Smart shelf labels eliminate this process, saving staff time and reducing operational costs.
  3. Instant Promotions and Special Offers - With smart shelf labels, retailers can quickly launch promotions, discounts, and special offers across the store. This agility improves responsiveness to market trends; digital labels can improve the customer experience.
  4. Reduced Label Management Costs - Since smart shelf labels can be updated remotely, there's no need for staff to physically replace paper labels. This reduces labor costs and time associated with label changes and ensures consistent pricing and information.
  5. Accurate Inventory Management - Smart shelf labels that integrate with inventory management systems provide real-time stock information. This accuracy helps prevent stockouts and improves overall inventory management efficiency.
  6. Enhanced Customer Experience - Customers benefit from accurate pricing, up-to-date product information, and readily available promotions. This leads to a smoother shopping experience, increased customer trust, and improved satisfaction.
  7. Reduced Waste - Since labels can be updated electronically, there's less need for paper labels that contribute to waste and environmental concerns.
  8. Consistency Across Channels - Smart shelf labels can ensure consistent pricing and product information across different sales channels, including in-store and online, which promotes a unified customer experience.
  9. Ease of Compliance - For industries with strict labeling regulations (e.g., food, pharmaceuticals), smart shelf labels make it easier to ensure compliance with accurate and up-to-date information.
  10. Data-driven Insights - Smart shelf labels can provide retailers with data on customer interactions, such as which products are attracting the most attention. This data can inform merchandising and marketing strategies.
  11. Improved Employee Focus and Productivity - With less time spent on manual label changes, store employees can focus more on customer service and other value-added tasks.

#5 Applications of smart shelf labels

Smart shelves can be beneficial for a wide range of retail businesses, helping them streamline operations, enhance the customer experience, and improve overall efficiency. Here are the various retail business applications of smart shelf labels:


  • Supermarkets and grocery stores
  • Electronics and appliance retailers
  • Fashion and apparel retailers
  • Pharmacies
  • Cosmetics and beauty stores
  • Consumer electronics stores
  • Home improvement stores
  • Wine and liquor shops
  • Bookstores
  • Specialty food stores
  • Toy stores
  • Pet supply stores
  • Jewelry stores
  • Sporting goods stores
  • Health and wellness stores
  • Stationery and office supply stores
  • Auto parts stores
  • Furniture Stores
  • Convenience stores
  • Home decor stores

#6 How much does a smart shelf label cost?

Investing in a smart shelf and digital shelf labels can be a costly undertaking. However, companies can save money in the long run. The initial cost of a smart shelf label will depend on several factors, such as the number of shelves and labels needed, any additional technology that needs to be integrated, and any software services required. It is important to factor in the upfront costs and long-term savings when deciding whether or not to invest in this digital retail technology.

#7 How long do smart shelf labels last?

Smart shelf label solutions are quickly taking hold in stores across the nation. In addition to their convenience and cost-effectiveness, a key factor driving their popularity is their potential lifespan.

Smart shelves rely on digital shelf labels, which can last for years—much longer than the traditional paper labels they replace. In general, digital shelf labels are designed to last between 5-10 years. This makes them a reliable, resilient, and sustainable long-term investment.

Smart shelves are sure to remain a steady and intelligent force in the retail industry. Retailers need to analyze their operations and think about how smart shelves can transform their businesses.

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