Retailers and brands already have access to intelligent packaging and intelligent labels for their products – so they might as well have intelligent shelves to stock them on.

That appears to be the thinking behind San Diego, Calif.-based retail technology firm Cloverleaf Media LLC, which today announced shelfPoint, a solution that replaces traditional shelf pricing stickers while simultaneously serving as a video ad platform and collecting customer engagement data.

“Retail technology has shown a great deal of promise, particularly around gathering and using data more effectively,” Jan Murley, Cloverleaf’s chief strategy and marketing advisor, tells ITBusiness.ca. “Unfortunately most of that technology is triggered at the point of sale, after the shopper has finished his or her shopping. I think what makes us unique is that we’re the first technology-driven platform that engages a shopper where he or she is actually shopping – at the shelf.”

Despite public perception that online shopping has taken over retail in recent years, the reality is that more than half of Canadian consumers still prefer shopping at physical stores, and in recent years a hybrid approach combining the two has taken centre stage, she says.

Yet while multiple studies show that creating a digitally-driven experience at retail stores – using mobile devices, for example – pays dividends, Canadian retailers especially have been slow to keep up.

With many U.S. retailers facing similar challenges, Cloverleaf’s mission when developing shelfPoint was twofold, Murley says: provide brands and retailers with a dynamic new display platform that brings their pricing information into the 21st century, while simultaneously building an analytics platform they can use to record their customers’ emotional reactions to a product, along with the moment they decide to purchase.

“We call it the 10, five, and one,” she says. “At 10 feet, we need to stop you and grab your attention with a big, dynamic piece of communication. At five feet we’ve drawn you in and want to tell you more about what’s here and why you might like it, and at one foot we want to close the sale with a pricing or a promotional offer.”

The shelfPoint platform can also be used for live A/B testing, giving marketing teams the opportunity to program multiple displays, optimizing each message for a specific demographic and evaluating their success.

“We can learn whether message A is more powerful than message B, so we can keep optimizing the message for the particular target,” Murley explains. “Over time we will be able to modify the message we put out there based on who is shopping in front of the shelf – so if I am a brand and I want to attract millennials with one message, and soccer moms with the other, I can figure out how to differentiate my messages based on who is in front of the shelf at the time.”

And privacy-minded customers needn’t worry – the focus is on mapping demographics and expressions, not personal details, she notes. Nothing is stored.

“We only know you from the pixels in a template,” Murley says. “So there’s never any physical picture – what’s kept are the pixels, which map against the template with about an 80 per cent accuracy rate.”

So far, the platform’s features include:

  • Emotional Artificial Intelligence Technology: Leveraging a strategic partnership with “emotional AI” developer Affectiva, the shelfPoint platform uses optical sensors to classify each shopper’s facial expressions into one of 20 categories such as joy, sadness, anger, fear, or surprise without storing personal information or images.
  • Demographic Capture Capabilities: shelfPoint’s sensors can also gather anonymous shopper demographic data including age, gender, and ethnic group.
  • LCD Display: The platform includes high-definition LCD strips that run across an entire shelf, giving marketers a new platform they can use to attract, engage, and entice shoppers based on their distance, demographic, and engagement.
  • Actionable Insights: Using Cloverleaf’s own cloud-based insights platform, shelfPoint can be used to analyze in-store data and deliver a detailed overview of key findings tailored to the retailer and/or brand’s needs.
  • IT Agnostic Platform: CIOs will be happy to know that shelfPoint uses its own cloud-based, cellular-enabled media player and can thus easily integrate with just about any existing IT infrastructure, in addition to running independently of a store’s wireless Internet connection. All retailers need do is upload their pricing information to the platform, as Murley says attempting full integration with a store’s point-of-sale system would have been more trouble than it was worth.

The company is happy to help clients make sense of their data as well, Murley says, depending on their needs: Proctor and Gamble, for example, has data crunchers working for them and prefers to receive raw information, while Red Bull representatives simply ask for the highlights.

Eventually, she acknowledges, Cloverleaf hopes that its platform becomes widespread enough that it can serve as a customer analytics firm.

“It’s like when Amazon started selling books,” she says. “We want to start with the shelf, because that’s the most productive place to build from.”

Check out a demonstration of Cloverleaf’s shelfPoint solution, using Pepsi products, below.

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