Source: Asda

Asda has called time on a trial of electronic shelf edge labels (ESLs) at its Stevenage superstore, which was the biggest in the UK upon launch in 2020.

More than 25,000 ESLs were involved in the trial, as the retailer tested how the technology could be used in price campaigns, to display allergen information, and to assist pickers to find items faster.

Asda confirmed to The Grocer the trial – which was being carried out with ESL provider SES-imagotag and electronics giant Panasonic – had “now concluded”.

“We’ll be analysing the results of this trial whilst we move on to other trials and projects,” a spokesman said.

The supermarket has not, however, completely dismissed the technology, in July launching a trial of ESLs in the refillable aisle at its Middleton store. The trial – with ESL tech firms Avery Berkel and Hanshow – allows customers to see real time price differences in packaged and unpackaged versions of the same product.

ESLs made their debut in grocery more than 30 years ago, but despite widespread use across Europe – particularly in France and Scandinavia – are yet to make their mark in the UK.

Safeway announced it was rolling out ESLs across its estate following a trial in two stores in 2002, but the rollout never happened. In 2017, both Morrisons and Waitrose experimented with video shelf labels but went no further. Following an abortive trial of ESLs in 2013, Tesco tried again in 2017, but the supermarket said there was “nothing new to say” about the technology.

However, adoption of the tech is on the increase. In 2022, Scotmid Co-op completed a rollout of more than half a million electronic shelf labels across its 189 food stores. Southern Co-op in August this year completed its rollout of over half a million ESLs across its 197-strong store estate.

Aldi in April told The Grocer it had started to roll out ESLs across its estate, having trialled them in some stores since 2021. Trials are also live at Lidl, Morrisons and M&S.

For retailers, ESLs allow for pricing and promotion changes to be made centrally and more quickly updated than printed paper labels. The tech has sparked consumer suspicion they will be used for so-called ‘surge’ pricing, whereby the prices of goods increase to exploit consumer demand.

The high initial capex of the devices has deterred some retailers, with Scotmid confirming its ESL rollout was “one of the biggest, if not the biggest, investments” it has made in technology.

SES-imagotag said ESL technology was “well proven” and that it continues to roll out ESLs at large supermarkets like Walmart, where a deal signed earlier this year will see 60 million labels deployed across 500 locations.

“ESLs and in-store IoT are at the top of the agenda of most retailers globally,” the company told The Grocer, “with growing adoption in all markets – and we can see that in the exponential growth SES-imagotag has seen in recent years - around 30% CAGR for the past 10 years. With the current macroeconomic context - inflation, costs and labour - the case for ESLs has never been better.”