HOUSTON -- Fiesta Mart here will be the first site to test a new electronic labeling system that uses high-frequency radio waves to transmit pricing data to the shelf edge.
Next week the chain will have 10,000 electronic labels installed in a 70,000-square-foot store here, according to Gil Russell, chief information officer.
The system, from AT&T, Dayton, Ohio, draws pricing changes from a central data base and transmits the data simultaneously to shelf tags and the point-of-sale system via FM technology.
Fiesta Mart said it will evaluate performance of the wireless system at one store over the next six months. "We're pretty excited about it because we don't have to wire the gondola, we don't have to wire the ceiling down to the gondola -- it's completely wireless," Russell told SN.
He was quick to point out, however, that a chainwide rollout of electronic shelf labels to Fiesta Mart's 30 stores was not imminent. "We've made no promises beyond this store," Russell told SN.
"Today, we couldn't justify the cost," he added. "We're not putting [the labels] in thinking we're going to roll them out. We're putting them in to test to see the benefits and try to evaluate whether we could justify it in the long term."
Russell said electronic shelf labels' ability to increase pricing accuracy and reduce labor costs related to updating shelf tags will propel the technology to wider acceptance in the industry. Costs of the tags, however, remain prohibitive to many retailers, he said.
"There is no doubt that everybody in the grocery business would like to have electronic shelf labels because it does ensure the right pricing on the shelf and it does eliminate a lot of administrative tasks like making shelf labels and updating shelf labels," he said.
"The problem is, all of us are concerned about justifying the cost" of the systems, he said, which can range from $6 to $8 per label depending on the technology used. A full-store installation of 12,000 to 15,000 labels can cost more than $100,000.
Other electronic shelf-label vendors with commercial installations in North America include Telepanel Systems, Markham, Ontario, and Electronic Retailing Systems International, Wilton, Conn. A third vendor, Pricer, Norwalk, Conn., will install its first system this spring.