With some media outlets promoting false stories on electronic labelling, it’s another reminder of the ‘fake news’ that we are always being told about.
It was certainly the phrase of 2016, but who would have thought Donald Trump and UK food retail would overlap in such a way?
Fake news can be overused as a term, often dismissing a genuine point of view. However with the surge pricing debacle, it is absolutely appropriate.
If we look at the days of Safeway, it had electronic price labels on trial in some stores, but never fully rolled them out.
In its fledgling days M Local also used electronic labels, but their roll-out was swiftly stopped because the costs could never fully be justified.
“Surge pricing aside, the electronic shelf label is likely to appear in UK retail sooner rather than later”
Tesco was also trialling an equivalent label. However, its label was a part-paper and part-digitally priced label – so not fully electronic, and would still require some manual intervention.
By the current e-ink/Kindle-style standards, these labels were relatively basic. Based on rudimentary digital display, they were not easy to read under store lighting for example.
A matter of time
Our European cousins have had these basic electronic labels for a number of years now, and folk who work in retail often tweet in delight at seeing electronic labels alongside English products in store.
I don’t believe any retailer has yet managed to operate surge pricing, putting Pimms up by 75% as the temperature goes above 25ºC, or sticking 50% on the umbrellas because it’s raining outside.
Petrol stations operate digital pricing in a number of locations, and they don’t surge-price based on demand or weather.
So in this instance, there is a non-story. The competitive marketplace remains whether retailers are pricing electronically or via the traditional paper method.
“The savings are obvious for retailers; an elimination of the price change would save a significant number of hours per week, across the store estate”
Surge pricing aside, the electronic shelf label is likely to appear in UK retail sooner rather than later. However, the numbers remain prohibitive.
Obvious cost savings
If you consider that a standard supermarket, even post-range rationalisation, stocks some 20,000 products that immediately generates a significant amount required for investment.
The savings are obvious for retailers; an elimination of the price change would save a significant number of hours per week, across the store estate.
However, that is still dwarfed by the overall sum required to roll these labels out, the payback is too long in a short-term industry.
As the technology progresses towards a Kindle-style display, with colour displays and greater flexibility than the older labels, the costs haven’t come down – which makes it a bit of a crossroads for retailers.
While there won’t be surge pricing, the new technology does give a degree of flexibility for digital messaging and appropriate time of day messages too.
The certainty that drives this technological automation is the new, higher minimum wage of course.
Paying colleagues a higher wage per hour suddenly makes advancements like electronic labels appear more attractive, despite the high initial outlay.