Bluetooth Electronic Shelf Labels
Now, thanks to Bluetooth® technology, a large retail business can simultaneously and quickly update electronic shelf labels across the entire store with no need for manual intervention.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) ratified the Bluetooth® Core Specification Version 5.4 release in February of 2023. The primary feature in Bluetooth Core Specification Version 5.4 is support for Periodic Advertising with Responses (PAwR), and the main target for that feature is electronic shelf labels. The big step forward here is that PAwR allows for simultaneous broadcast from an access point (AP) to up to 7,000 devices. In earlier revs, store-wide updates would have required a ping-pong update to each label, taking significant time to update all labels. Now, thanks to Bluetooth technology, a large retail business can simultaneously and quickly update electronic shelf labels across the entire store with no need for manual intervention. One immediate payback is to reduce discounts demanded by shoppers because price labels have not been uniformly updated (this affects five to ten percent of purchases). Another benefit allows for fast response times in reaction to competitor price changes. Similarly, quick price responses to online competitors have been shown to reduce showrooming (checking out an item in store and then buying it online for a lower price) and increase brand loyalty.
The release of PAwR also allows electronic shelf labels to respond back to the access point staggered in allocated timeslots to avoid conflicts and interferences. The most immediate benefit of this feature is to acknowledge that each label has received and made the update. More appealing uses are to provide shelf stock status or added shopper interaction/assistance, for example, flashing the label when nearing an item they are trying to find or guiding them to the next item in their shopping basket.
Incidentally, because security is a high priority in any automation, Bluetooth Core Specification Version 5.4 also includes support for encrypted broadcasting.
Bluetooth ESL Is the Scalable Solution
An open standard that can support open market solutions for access points and for electronic shelf labels with different characteristics/price points from a variety of suppliers is the only way to go.
Why not use Wi-Fi? Because it can’t meet the incredible broadcast reach of Bluetooth® Low Energy (LE). Remember also that electronic shelf labels must be very low cost. Builders are aiming at 40 cents for the radio, a much easier target for embedded Bluetooth LE than for Wi-Fi. Builders are also aiming at battery-less or very small battery devices, harvesting all or most of the required energy from ambient lighting or RF. While this option isn’t yet massively deployed, Bluetooth LE is the best candidate to meet this objective thanks to its low power consumption.
Today, most electronic shelf labels depend on proprietary radio interfaces, a technology provider lock-in that will be very unappealing to retail store owners already managing their costs carefully. An open standard that can support open market solutions for access points and for electronic shelf labels with different characteristics/price points from a variety of suppliers is the only way to go.