Panasonic Adds Bluetooth Beacons to Electronic Shelf Labels

At last month’s NRF Big Show, Panasonic System Communications Co., a division of Panasonic Corp. of North America, drew a great deal of attention for the electronic shelf label (ESL) system it demonstrated. The solution, known as Powershelf, now includes new Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon functionality, enabling retailers using the system to connect their customers with location-based content via a mobile app.

The Powershelf is intended to enable stores to electronically update prices on LCD screens mounted on product shelves, as well as receive automatic notifications in the event that a shelf becomes empty, indicating a product needs to be restocked to ensure that sales are not missed. With the new version of the Powershelf, known as the Intelligent Retail Shelving Solution, an additional functionality allows retailers to utilize Panasonic beacons to send location-specific marketing and promotional messages to consumers as they walk past the shelves in store aisles. Stores can decide how many beacons they wish to install.

Each customer would download an app provided by the store itself. With that app, consumers could then receive beacon transmissions and be sent relevant promotional data or coupons. For instance, if a shopper comes within range of a beacon in a store aisle, that individual could receive an alert to indicate that a promotion is being offered on a particular product, such as a specific soft drink brand, while he or she pauses in the beverage area.

The inductive coupling technology of Powershelf has addressed several problems that burdened the electronic shelf industry in the past. It eliminates the need for battery replacement. Most electronic shelves on the market require that batteries be replaced—a process that can be both expensive and time-consuming at any store large enough to have hundreds or thousands of the labels installed on shelves. In short, the electromagnetic field created by the copper wire is used to charge each beacon’s battery.

Panasonic opted to include the beacon technology in the Powershelf system now because the use of BLE has become more commonplace since Apple released iBeacon as part of its iOS 7 operating system in 2013.

“More than 70 percent of consumers in the U.S. are now using mobile devices as part of their path to purchase,” Rance Poehler, the president of Panasonic System Communications Co. of North America, says. “Beacon technology can increase the connection between retailers, CPG companies and their customers, and improves the shopping experience with proximity-based, at-shelf advertising.”

Regarding his company’s existing and potential customers, Poehler says: “We are seeing tremendous interest in technologies like beacons that will be key to retailers looking to build a true omni-channel platform.”

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