U.K.'s John Lewis Trials Electronic Shelf Tags That Don't Look Like New Technology. Will This Reverse Psychology Work?

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Electronic shelf tags have gone pretty much nowhere in recent years, but U.K. department store chain John Lewis is doing an interesting trial at one of its newest stores. The Exeter location, which the 39-store chain uses as a testbed for new technologies, has put in hundreds of e-paper shelf tags that will display both prices and QR codes that customers can scan to get offers and product information. John Lewis is calling this an omnichannel test, the idea being that if customers are going to have their phones out in the store, shelf tags are a good thing for them to scan.

True, there's nothing in that part of the trial that couldn't be done with paper tags, and that is part of what's so interesting: Unlike a more traditional electronic shelf tag, customers won't necessarily notice that these tags are electronic. That makes them less distracting and possibly less likely to be stolen, both of which have been problems with electronic tags in the past. In-store technology that all but hides the fact that it's new technology sounds strange, but if it finally gets easy-to-update electronic tags on shelves—and maybe eventually into John Lewis' 290-store Waitrose grocery chain—so much the better.