Hand-scrawled signs might scream cheap (hello, JB Hi-Fi), but most retailers want to avoid the expense and hassle of constantly changing signs and shelf tags. We're rapidly heading towards a future where selling strategies will assail you from multiple screens every time you visit a supermarket.
Last week, I attended the opening of the Retail Evolution Lab in Melbourne. Set up as a co-operative venture between retail design firm Red Design Group and electronics manufacturer AOPEN, the site showcases soon-to-emerge technologies that can be helpful to retailers planning new outlets. All the technology featured is either commercially available or due for release within months, and retailers can hire the space for their own trial installations.
Oddly enough, one of the reasons for making retail stores high-tech is the fact that we spend less time in them because of online shopping. A related trend is using our phones to research what we're told in store. Clearly we like tech, so the obvious response is to implement it in store. "What we're seeing today through digital technology is a seismic change in the way customers actually shop," said Red Design Group chair and former Safeway founder Don Fraser.
This was very evident in the demo equipment set up throughout the Retail Evolution Lab. A welcome screen greets you as you enter the store. A giant screen above a touchscreen PC gives you the option of logging in and checking details. Other screens display bargain prices
Having to update shelf tags is expensive and labour-intensive, especially in high-volume environments like supermarkets. Having electronic tags isn't new (Kmart has used basic LCD ones for a few years), but the relative cheapness of colour displays makes fancier options possible. Shelf level labels can be used for promotional purposes, but can also display nutrition information or unit pricing details.
So how should a savvy shopper respond to this onslaught of screens? In many ways, the principles we always suggest continue to apply: don't be distracted by specials, check if you're actually saving money and if you actually need the product, and look towards the lower shelves to find cheaper options.
Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money. Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to Melbourne as a guest of AOPEN.