Walgreens has replaced some refrigerator doors with screens. And some buyers absolutely hate it


By Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN Business

Walgreens and other retailers have replaced see-through refrigerator and freezer doors in thousands of stores, instead adding opaque doors with iPad-like screens showing what’s inside. Some clients are really, really not into it.

the screens, which were developed by startup Cooler Screens, use a system of motion sensors and cameras to display what’s inside doors, along with product information, pricing, offers, and what’s inside. that attracts brands the most, paid ads. Technology provides stores with an additional revenue stream and a way to modernize the shopping experience.

But for customers who just want to peek in the freezer and grab their ice cream, Walgreens might piss them off by solving a problem shoppers didn’t know existed.

The company wants to involve more people in advertising, but the reaction so far has been annoyance and confusion.

“Why would Walgreens do this? » a confused shopper who encountered the screens posted on TikTok. “Who on God’s green earth thought that was a good idea?”

“Walgreens’ digital cooling screens had me watching an ad before it let me know which door had the frozen pizzas in,” noted someone on Twitter.

Another echoed: “@Walgreens NO ONE needs a TV screen to replace your cooler aisle doors…. Stop.”

Retailers are eager to add new experiences to their physical stores. But many consumers aren’t keen on changing their habits – and they’re certainly not used to watching freezer ads.

“People really enjoy their routines. They’re not always looking for excitement,” said Julio Sevilla, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Georgia who studies consumer behavior.

Digital screens, he said, can add uncertainty and physical barriers to a simple and literally transparent process: reaching a glass refrigerator.

Sevilla does not believe that consumers are looking for novelty when visiting a grocery store: “We all like walking into a supermarket and knowing exactly what we are getting. I also know exactly where things are. For this type of utility-related framework, people love their certainty and simplicity. »

Big stores

Still, Walgreens and Cooler Screens are forging ahead. Walgreens began testing the displays in 2018 and has since expanded the pilot to a few thousand locations nationwide.

Several other major retailers are launching their own tests with Cooler Screens, including Kroger, CVS, GetGo convenience stores and Chevron gas stations.

“I hope we can one day expand into all parts of the store,” Cooler Screens co-founder and CEO Arsen Avakian said in an interview with CNN Business.

Currently, the startup has about 10,000 screens in stores, which are viewed by about 90 million consumers per month, according to the company. Avakian said the company aims to bring its digital displays 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] efforts to provide new and different experiences to our customers.

The spokesperson said the displays add value because they give customers relevant product information to help them decide what to buy, and that Walgreens is evaluating the pilot to decide whether it should expand further.

‘Moment of truth’

Although not all Walgreens customers are fans, the Cooler Screens concept has attracted top brands like Coke, Pepsi, Nestlé, Kraft Heinz and Monster. It has raised over $100 million from backers including Microsoft and Verizon.

Cooler Screens CEO Avakian said he developed the concept after seeing customers in stores pull out their phones to find product information and reviews. Traditionally, in-store advertising was limited to options such as signs, promotions and prominent shelf placement. But Cooler Screens’ targeted digital ads are delivered at the “moment of truth,” Avakian said, just when consumers are deciding which product to take out of the refrigerator.

Brands can place ads spread across multiple freezers, ones that display product nutrition labels, or ads triggered by weather or time of day. An ice cream company might want to run ads when it’s hot outside, while a coffee brand might be rushed in the morning.

The setup aims to help stores generate high-margin advertising revenue to offset their low-margin retail business. Businesses pay Cooler Screens to run on-screen ads, and retailers get a cut.

“There’s a big movement in retail right now to create what’s called a ‘retail media network,’ which leverages all the ways brands can interact digitally with that retailer,” said Chris Walton, former Vice President of Target who runs the retail blog. Omnitalk.

“It was not a problem”

Cooler Screens claims that 90% of consumers surveyed prefer its digital screens to traditional refrigerators, and that the screens increase store sales. (Walgreens did not comment on this.)

But beyond confusing social media posts, the technology has also attracted misinformation and conspiracy theories. Politifact last month demystified a viral video on Facebook that claimed “Walgreens refrigerators scan shoppers’ hands and foreheads for ‘the mark of the beast’.”

Avakian insists the technology is “identity-blind” and protects consumer privacy. The freezers are equipped with front-facing sensors used to anonymously track shoppers interacting with the platform, while interior-facing cameras track product inventory.

Some customers expressed frustration with the experience. People don’t know whether to press screens or talk to them. The items on display do not always correspond to what is inside because the products are out of stock.

Henry Brewer, who recently encountered one of the digital screens at a Walgreens in Chicago, said the technology was “highly visible” and “intrusive.”

“We see ads literally everywhere and now I have to go see it on the cooler?” he said. “It doesn’t just seem necessary, and I think it’s a diversion for the consumer when it wasn’t an issue.”

For Avakian, it’s simply expected growing pains. Cooler Screens plans to educate customers on digital screens and launch features like voice recognition, so shoppers can ask questions about prices or item locations.

“It’s the future of retail and shopping,” Avakian said.

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