How to Choose the Best Electronic Shelf Labeling System for Your Retail Store

Electronic shelf labeling (ESL) has emerged as a powerful tool, enhancing operational efficiency, enriching the customer experience, and bolstering sales performance. While the advantages of ESL are clear, selecting the right system presents its own challenges – from software compatibility and hardware features to customer support and display choices. This blog post will guide you through these considerations, providing a comprehensive overview of choosing the best ESL system for your retail store.

Software Features and Compatibility

The backbone of an effective ESL solution is its Content Management System (CMS). EnGage CMS stands out, offering retailers the power to integrate hardware and software seamlessly. This pivotal platform gives retailers unparalleled control, whether they prefer a broad overview or delve into specifics. But really, what should you be looking for in your ESL’s software features?

Ultimately, ESL isn’t just about displaying prices. It’s about digitizing the retail experience, integrating with inventory systems, assimilating data for strategic pricing, and showcasing custom displays for specific promotions. So, the software’s capacity for functionality, user-friendliness, integration, and customization plays a crucial role.

Typically, when considering ESL solutions, retailers often weigh between choices like Cloud and On-premise systems. While companies like us at ComQi advocate for cloud-based solutions, emphasizing scalability and convenience, on-premise solutions offer more direct control over data, potentially adding a stronger layer of security. Some other features that ComQi covers and should be considered when choosing an ESL solution are:

  1. Dynamic Pricing: Some providers offer software that automatically updates prices in real-time based on external factors like demand, competition, or seasonality. This feature allows retailers to respond swiftly to market changes and maximize profits.
  2. Integration with POS Systems: Many top-tier ESL software solutions seamlessly integrate with a store’s Point of Sale (POS) system. This advantage means when a price changes at the POS, it’s automatically reflected on the shelf label, ensuring consistency.
  3. Inventory Tracking: Advanced ESL software can integrate with inventory management systems. If an item is running low or out of stock, the software can auto-adjust promotions or notify staff.
  4. Customizable Displays: Some ESL providers allow retailers to customize how the price appears on the shelf, from fonts and colors to including QR codes or promotional badges.
  5. Data Analytics: A few sophisticated ESL software options come with built-in analytics. Retailers can track which items frequently change prices or which promotions are most effective, offering valuable insights.
  6. Remote Management: Certain ESL software options offer centralized management for retailers with multiple store locations. Price changes or promotions can be rolled out to one store or all with a few clicks.
  7. Safety Protocols: Considering the increasing cyber threats, some providers have fortified their software with advanced security measures to safeguard price data and customer information.

Choosing the Right ESL Software

How can you choose the best ESL software for your business? Start by laying the foundation: What do you hope to achieve with your ESL system? By clearly defining your objectives—whether it’s store expansion, enhancing customer experience, or boosting sales—you can tailor your software choice to support these goals directly. Consider the following actions.

Assess Your IT Infrastructure

With the rapid advancements in cloud technology, businesses of all sizes are finding cloud-based solutions to be the optimal choice. Not only do they offer unparalleled convenience, but they also provide scalability and cost-efficiency. Especially for stores with limited tech resources, embracing the cloud ensures seamless operations without the need for extensive customization or control.

Prioritize Data Security

In an age where data breaches make headlines, picking ESL software with solid security protocols is crucial. This is especially pivotal for those leaning towards cloud solutions, where data is stored off-site.

Content Needs and Integration

Opt for software that aligns with your content strategy. Whether it’s flashy marketing campaigns, QR codes, or basic price displays, ensure the software can handle it. But beyond displays:

  • Seamless integration with current systems, like POS or inventory management, is key.
  • Emphasize adaptability for potential future operational needs.
  • Go for software providers who offer regular updates and features that can adapt to future retail trends.

Hardware Features 

In the complex world of electronic shelf labeling, every technical detail matters. One such crucial detail is the frequency at which the system operates. In a typical retail space, where numerous devices and Wi-Fi signals coexist, choosing the right frequency can be the difference between smooth operations and unwanted disruptions.

At ComQi, we opt for a sub1 gigahertz (GHz) network as part of its hardware design. This frequency choice is strategic. Unlike higher frequencies that might clash with standard Wi-Fi signals, the sub1 GHz offers a clear communication channel for ESL tags.

The result? A store’s Wi-Fi continues to serve customers and staff without interruptions. At the same time, the ESL system operates smoothly on its own distinct frequency. It’s a practical approach, ensuring essential price updates or promotions get through without any hitches.

Such hardware considerations seem minor on paper. Still, they can greatly influence day-to-day operations and the overall customer experience in a bustling retail environment. 

But there more hardware features to consider as well.

Wireless Technology and Battery Life

Initially, selecting an ESL system might seem primarily about flashy features and aesthetic appeal. Yet, beneath the surface, the right wireless tech and battery longevity can make all the difference.

Why Wireless Tech Matters 

Consider wireless technology as the lifeline that ensures uninterrupted communication between the central system and individual labels. While one type of wireless tech might excel in smaller stores, another could be more suited for sprawling retail spaces with architectural challenges. It’s this scalability and adaptability that determine whether price updates are instant or if they lag, even momentarily.

Weighing the Wireless Options 

Different ESL providers employ varied wireless solutions. Some might champion the merits of radio frequency (RF) for its broad coverage. In contrast, others might lean towards infrared (IR) for its direct line-of-sight communication advantages. Yet, each has its strengths and challenges. For instance, RF offers flexibility in tag placement, but IR can sometimes boast faster data transfer speeds.

The Battery Balance 

Battery life is where the industry sees a lot of variety. While it’s tempting to expect a battery that lasts for years on end, practical factors like frequent price updates, LED lights, and the size of the tag play decisive roles. Most tags last a commendable 2.5 to 3 years. Yet, with the rapid pace of technological evolution, newer tags often arrive on the scene with enhanced features, requiring more power. 

How To Choose Your Wireless and Battery Hardware

When considering your hardware, keep the following in mind:

  • Store Size: Larger stores might need more robust wireless tech that can ensure seamless communication across greater distances.
  • Network Infrastructure: Assess your current setup. Some technologies might be more compatible or easier to integrate.
  • Interference Sources: Busy areas with multiple electronic devices can cause interference. Choosing a system that can counteract this is crucial.
  • Update Frequency: If you plan to update prices frequently, consider a system optimized for such activity, but remember it might affect battery life.

Customer Support and Service Levels

When diving into electronic shelf labeling (ESL), the focus often veers toward technological prowess and hardware reliability. Yet, an often-underestimated facet of this investment is the quality and availability of customer support and service levels. Much like any tech-based solution, having a solid support system can be the difference between smooth operations and prolonged downtimes.

Why Good Support Matters 

Imagine investing significantly in an ESL system, only to grapple with setup complexities. Or, picture a scenario where a minor glitch cascades into a major disruption, all due to the lack of prompt technical support. This is where customer support steps in, offering services like installation assistance, staff training, regular maintenance, and crucial system updates. It ensures that the system you invested in remains optimized, efficient, and effective over time.

Types of Support

Different ESL providers approach support differently:

  • Self-service Solutions: These are typically online platforms where retailers can find answers to common questions, troubleshoot issues, and even access tutorials. It’s a flexible option but requires a more proactive approach from the user.
  • Full-service Solutions: Here, the ESL provider takes a hands-on approach, offering on-site services, dedicated helplines, and even routine check-ins. It’s comprehensive but can be more expensive. ComQi, for example, is a full-service solution.
  • Online vs. Offline Support Channels: While online channels like chatbots and email support offer convenience, offline channels, like phone or on-site support, can offer more personalized and immediate solutions.

For example, ESL Provider “A” might offer 24/7 online chat support with a guarantee of system updates every quarter. In contrast, ESL Provider “B” could emphasize its on-site training programs and yearly maintenance checks. Which seems better for you? Deciphering what’s offered and aligning it with what’s needed can be pivotal.

Navigating Your Choice 

When it comes to picking the right support and service level, several factors come into play:

  • Budget: While everyone wants the best support, balancing between ideal and financially viable is essential.
  • Staff Skills: If you have a tech-savvy team, they might fare well with less hands-on support. Conversely, a team unfamiliar with ESL might benefit from more comprehensive support.
  • Time Availability: If your operations run on tight schedules, waiting for support might be impossible. Immediate or 24/7 support could be beneficial.
  • Expectations: Sometimes, it’s about peace of mind. Knowing that full-service support is just a call away, even if rarely used, can be reassuring.

Display Size and Quality

In the visually driven retail landscape, the display is king. It’s not just about projecting prices or product information but creating an informative and enticing experience for customers. Thus, while considering an ESL system, the quality and size of the display should be central to your decision-making.

The Importance of Right Display Characteristics 

A display’s primary purpose is readability. Regardless of how advanced an ESL system is, its purpose is defeated if customers can’t easily read and understand the content. Beyond readability, other factors play a pivotal role:

  • Visibility: A display that’s too small may fade into the background, while one that’s excessively large could dominate shelf space.
  • Attractiveness: In a competitive retail environment, an appealing display can captivate customers’ attention and influence purchase decisions.
  • Durability: Durability is crucial given the variety of store environments, from humid grocery aisles to sunlit window displays.

Choosing Your Ideal Display 

When deliberating display size and quality:

  • Product Category: A more vibrant and colorful display might enhance their appeal if you showcase high-end products. Simple products might just require clear, readable text.
  • Shelf Layout: Consider the space available. Overcrowded shelves might benefit from compact yet high-quality displays.
  • Customer Behavior: If your customers tend to take their time browsing, intricate and detailed displays can be valuable. For quicker shopping experiences, clarity and readability are key.
  • Store Environment: Opt for displays with good brightness and contrast for sunlit areas. In dimly lit spaces, a backlit display might serve best.

Choosing the Ideal ESL for Your Business

Picking the right ESL system is crucial for retail store owners, and the decision largely rests on four pillars: display quality and size, wireless tech reliability, software compatibility, and robust customer support. ComQi’s ESL solutions stand out, offering top-notch displays, steadfast wireless connections, intuitive cloud software, and unwavering support. 

For those aiming to elevate their retail game, ComQi might just be your next step. Interested in learning more? Reach out to ComQi for details or a free consultation on their ESL offerings.