The company wants to get more people involved in the ads, but the reaction, so far, is discomfort and confusion.
Retailers are eager to add new experiences to their physical stores. But many consumers aren’t excited about changing their habits — and certainly not used to seeing freezer ads.
“People really value their routines. They’re not always looking for excitement,” said Julio Sevilla, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Georgia who studies consumer behavior.
He said digital screens can add uncertainty and physical barriers to a process that is literally simple and transparent: getting to a glass refrigerator.
Seville doesn’t think consumers are looking for new products when they visit a grocery store: “We all love going into a supermarket and knowing exactly what we’re getting. I also know exactly where things are. For this kind of place-related product, people like certainty and simplicity.”
Big Name Stores
“I hope one day we can expand into all parts of the store,” Co-founder and CEO of Cooler Screens Arsen Avakian said in an interview with CNN Business.
The startup currently has about 10,000 screens in stores, which are viewed by nearly 90 million consumers per month, according to the company. Avakian said the company aims to bring its digital offerings to a wide range of retailers including beauty, consumer electronics and home improvement.
A Walgreens spokesperson said in an email that Walgreens is “committed to exploring digital innovation in [an] The effort to offer new and different experiences to our customers.”
The spokesperson said the screens add value because they give customers relevant product information to help them decide what to buy, and that Walgreens is evaluating the pilot program to decide whether to expand further.
‘moment of truth’
Avakian, CEO of Cooler Screens, said he developed the concept after watching customers inside the store flick their phones to find product information and reviews. Traditionally, in-store advertising is limited to options such as signs, promotions and prominent placement on shelves. But Avakian said Cooler Screens’ targeted digital ads are served in a “moment of truth,” just as consumers decide which product to pull from the refrigerator.
Brands can place advertisements spread across multiple freezers, those displaying nutritional labels for products, or advertisements that run depending on the weather or time of day. An ice cream company might want to run ads when it’s hot outside, while a coffee brand can hit the morning rush.
The setup is intended to help stores add high-margin advertising revenue to offset their core, low-margin retail business. Companies pay Cooler Screens to run screen ads and retailers get a cut.
“There is a huge movement in retail right now to create what’s called a ‘retail media network,’ which takes advantage of all the ways brands can interact with a seller,” said Chris Walton, a former Vice President at Target who runs the retail blog. Retail this digitally.” OmniTalk.
This was not a problem
Cooler Screens says 90% of consumers surveyed prefer its digital screens over traditional refrigerators, and that the screens provide sales lifts to stores. (Walgreens has not commented.)
Avakian insists the technology is “identity blind” and protects consumers’ privacy. Freezers have front-facing sensors that are used to anonymously track shoppers interacting with the platform, while internally facing cameras track product inventory.
Some customers expressed frustration with the experience. People are not sure if they should tap on screens or talk to them. Items shown do not always match what’s inside because products are out of stock.
Henry Brewer, who recently ran into a digital screen at Walgreens in Chicago, said the technology felt “totally in your face” and “intrusive.”
“We see ads literally everywhere and now I have to go watch them in the cooler?” He said. “It just doesn’t seem necessary, and I think it turned off the consumer when that wasn’t an issue.”
For Avakian, it’s simply a predictable growing pain. Cooler Screens plans to educate customers about digital screens and launch features such as voice recognition, so shoppers can ask about prices or locations of items.
“This is the future of retail and shopping,” Avakian said.
“Organizer. Pop culture aficionado. Avid zombie scholar. Travel expert. Freelance web guru.”