As most people who found themselves in a grocery store during the chaotic pre-Thanksgiving period will probably recall: some days shopping in a store, even for relatively simple things, can be a pretty atrocious experience. Nothing seems to be in the right place, the signs advertise all kinds of sales — even ones that appear to have expired a day or two ago — and figuring out even basic product information seems to be a major uphill climb.
It was a situation that Arsen Avakian became intimately aware of in his previous job as CEO of Argo Tea, as he found himself spending much time in grocery store aisles trying to figure out how to sell more product. He found his mind was quickly drawn to a different set of questions: why was the experience in the aisles so chaotic and confusing most of the time and what could he do to fix it?
The solution became Avakian’s next entrepreneurial effort: Cooler Screens — a firm that has aims to replace the glass doors in the frozen foods aisle with large digital doors that are, in Avakian’s description, “big giant iPads” programmed to display relevant information and offers to consumers when they stop to look at them.
What kind of relevant information, he noted, will depend on a host of factors. The digital doors, he said, are the consumer touchpoint of the digital merchandising platform that Cooler Screens have built. Depending on what the customer is doing, plus a host of other contextual factors, all kinds of things could appear on that display. It might be a relevant offer from one of Cooler Screens brand partners, or it might even be nutritional information or dietary data.
“The foundational core of the idea was to bring the consumer experience in-store into line with something better and more akin to the online shopping experience by making it easy for them to make better buying decisions, better budgeting decisions or just have a better path to the relevant information they want.”
And while the frozen foods aisle is the brand’s starting point, he noted, the goals are much bigger. Because all kinds of retail areas could use cooler screens — even the screens aren’t literally going onto a cooling case.
A Better Way To Reach Consumers In Context
The idea to change the face of in-store retail with IoT enabled smart screen capable of scanning consumer intention and context to push the right purchase at them at the right moment, Avakian said, is a big job. Too big a job, in fact, for a start-up like Cooler Screens to take on completely solo.
“We are looking to build an ecosystem around this, and we know that is a very large vision that bringing this experience to life is going to be a cooperative project. It’s why we’ve formed relationships with global retail leaders like Walgreens, and among the top 20 CPG brands in the world — the Cokes, Pepsi’s, Nestles and the like. What we offer them, in a right point, to tell consumers their brand stories [and] reach out with relevant offers.”
And the relevance to the moment at hand in retail is an often-underestimated thing, he noted. When one looks at consumer behavior studies, one of the more consistent findings is that over two-thirds of consumer purchases are spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment choices. That means the challenge for brands and retailers looking to make conversions, he noted, is in properly being in and capturing that moment.
He gave the example of a customer in the frozen foods aisle around 7 or 8 a.m. looking at frozen breakfast items is not an ideal person to whom to show a beer promotion. But that same customer picking up a frozen pizza around game time on a Sunday afternoon? The beer promotion is much more useful to the customer.
And, he noted, it’s much more informative promotion for the brand. One of the main challenges he faced at Argo Tea, and the endemic problem for brands is how to know if the promotion is yielding conversions. Because of the placement of the Cooler Screens, that answer has become much more apparent because one can see whether the information pushed actually led to a conversion shortly after that at the point of sale (POS).
And yet, he noted, it is a transaction that also preserves the consumer's privacy while it is happening.
Privacy By Design
Privacy isn’t just an afterthought for Cooler Screens Akavian told PYMNTS — the idea that its service should protect individual shoppers was baked in from day one of design with standards developed by consumer privacy advocates. As far as they know, Akavian noted, they are one of the first retail firms to implement these standards.
And they do this, he notes for two reasons. The first is that it is the right thing to do.
“Consumers in a traditional retail context want privacy in the store, they don’t want to feel spied on, and they shouldn’t have to get strong digital services.”
Because the old school method of data scraping every demographic detail about a consumer to show them fully relevant offers that has become common among digital retailers is, he said, unnecessarily invasive without producing a really good result.
More than a retailer needing to know every detail about a customer to make good recommendations, show good information or push the right promotion, he said, they are better served knowing where the customer is, what they seem to be doing and looking at in the moment, and other contextual details like what the weather is in their ZIP code that day.
“We use a combination of IoT tech and digital sensors we have in front of the doors we are able to analyze consumer behavior in the moment — dwell time, what they are interested in, etc. We think that actually provides far more relevant signals when it comes to providing consumers a contextually relevant message or promotion. Who they are, where they came from and their favorite movie? We don’t need to know any of that.”
Consumers like getting relevant offers, he noted, but no one likes them so much they want to be spied on. So, he said, the solution is obvious: look at where they are and what they are doing, instead of trying to figure out personal details.
Cooler Screens started in the frozen foods section for two reasons — it was the section most in need of improvement and it is the fastest-growing part of the grocery store. But, he noted, the bigger goal will leave the frozen food section behind someday — because with adaptation, it could be an appropriate tool for all kinds of retail experience: in the pharmacy, buying fresh foods and the like. It could even find applications outside of the retail vertical entirely in healthcare applications for patients.
This is why he noted, expansion will be the big goal in 2020 — and though they couldn’t quite spill any of their big partnership announcements yet, Avakian said to pay attention in January 2020, because big news is on the horizon.
Because what is clear to the team at Cooler Screens, he noted, is that physical retail is not dying, nor is it likely to anytime soon given that 90 percent of commerce happens in physical stores today. It just needs improvement — and a digital upgrade to make the experience pleasant, instead of onerous.