Cooler Screens Brings New Look To Retail Innovation

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For most of us, a stroll down the chilled or frozen food aisle in the supermarket is essentially an in-store version of window shopping. But for Chicago-based Cooler Screens, all those clear refrigerator doors are a potential goldmine.

“We are taking advantage of unused capacity,” Cooler Screens Chief Technology Officer Rob Dravenstott told PYMNTS in a recent interview.  “We are essentially taking glass doors that were probably underutilized and not asking the retailer for any additional physical space.”

By replacing the traditional glass display doors with high-definition, multi-functional video screens, Cooler Screens (yes — it’s a double entendre) not only displays products and information but creates a brand new revenue stream for retailers.

“From a business standpoint, we believe that things like sales lift are obviously a really important metric,” Dravenstott said, “and you don’t hear that much in brick and mortar retail … sales lift is not a common thing.”

And because these next-gen freezer doors are equipped with sensors and video imagery, merchants are also given — for free — real-time updates on shelf space and inventory, Dravenstott said, calling the technology a value combination that has never been possible before for brick and mortar retailers.

Coming Soon To Stores Near You

After launching with Walgreens two years ago and doing a 50-store install last December, Dravenstott said Cooler Screens is now in the process of prepping for a major expansion.

“We announced a few months ago that we are pursuing 2,500 additional Walgreens locations,” Dravenstott said, noting that the installation project is set to get underway in Q1 of next year, with the company looking to complete half of them by mid-year. Also, he said the company is also doing a pilot with Giant Eagle’s convenience store brand GetGo in the Pittsburgh area and has also just completed its second installation for Kroger in the Cincinnati area.

“So a lot of activity and hopefully that’ll mean that everybody will have a location [with Cooler Screens] close to them soon,” he said.

We’ve Always Been Touchless

As much as the pandemic has brought about sweeping lifestyle changes and demand for touchless commerce and payments, Dravenstott said COVID-19 has had surprisingly little impact on its business. Part of this has to do with the fact that in-store grocery shopping still accounts for 95 percent of total sales, but also because the company made an “intentional design decision” years ago not to use touchscreens, which in light of COVID, he said, has worked out very well.

“We think by nature of the doors providing much more visibility of the products, the pricing, and soon to be nutritional information and other information, it allows consumers to see that without having to open the door, pick up products, and things like that,” Dravenstott said.

With company research showing 90-plus percent consumer satisfaction with the Cooler Screens experience, as well as the fact that this technology meshes with our increasingly digitized lives, Dravenstott expects to see demand for it from both sides.

“My expectation is that consumers will — like a lot of the experiences they have in the online world — want to see more of that digital experience in stores,” Dravenstott said.  “But I think it’s more important for retailers to meet the [digital experience] expectations of consumers,” he said.

The Right Side Of Privacy

Like its touchless decision, Dravenstott said Cooler Screens also committed to “identity blind advertising” when the company was formed — a choice that wasn’t easy or in vogue when they made it.

At a time when so much of the advertising we see and read online is targeted and designed to gather users’ background and demographic data, Dravenstott said, “we made a choice very early on and said, ‘We’re not going in that direction.’ We want to be in a strong position on the right side of privacy,” he said.

As much as Cooler Screens’ business model and revenue stream is built upon people seeing advertisements, Dravenstott said the company never uses biometrics or any technologies that could be used to identify consumers.

“We’re very careful about how we protect identity. All we are concerned about is, “Is there a human there?’ That’s what we are focused on,” he said.

Next Steps

Fresh on the heels of an $80 million capital injection last month, Davenstrott said the recent fundraising is really about supporting Cooler Screens’ expansions.

“I mentioned the 2,500 [Walgreens] stores that we are going after. A big part of that is actually buying the physical hardware associated with the doors. And so it’s a fairly capital intensive investment for us to make upfront, to manufacture and then install doors at that scale,” he said.

Dravenstott also said the company has been fortunate to have the backing of some of the biggest names in tech.

“We’ve been really blessed from the beginning [to have] Microsoft as one of our first investors … and Verizon as well has been with us providing key aspects of our technology and our support solutions,” he said.

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