UK grocer tries out e-ink price tags

Sainsbury’s grocery store is testing digital pricing system in one London location, which, if successful, will be rolled out in all its stores.

Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
A Sainsbury's supermarket sign is seen in London January 6, 2015. British grocer Sainsbury's posted a better-than-expected performance in the Christmas quarter, though it was still hurt by a loss of share to discounters and an intensifying industry price war. The group, which trails troubled market leader Tesco and Wal-Mart Stores' Asda by annual sales, said on Wednesday sales at stores open over a year fell 1.7 percent, excluding fuel, in the 14 weeks to Jan. 3, its fiscal third quarter.

Sainsbury’s is the United Kingdom’s third largest grocery store, but lately it seems more interested in implementing new technology. The chain announced today that, at least for a trial run at one store, it is going to do away with price stickers, opting for e-ink digital pricing displays.

This will allow Sainsbury’s to save on paper and labor, as well as change and update prices more easily. Currently the technology can be seen only in the Shoreditch Old Street location, in upscale area of London.

"A key part of our strategy is to make sure we’re looking at new technology on behalf of our colleagues to make their lives easier,” Jon Rudoe, the director of digital technology at Sainsbury’s, said in a statement. "So this trial will give us useful feedback about quicker, efficient digital pricing information and how much time and paper we’ll save in the process."

This is not the first time that Sainsbury’s, or its competitor Tesco, have gotten unusually futuristic for a grocer.

Sainsbury’s began offering a streaming entertainment service with movies, TV shows, and music at the end of last year and features a lot of current media, although it is not available in the US. Last November, the company also designed at mobile app that allows customers to skip the checkout and scan items on their phones as they shop.

At least the latter is related to primary business.

Tesco has also taken on some unconventional business ventures, such as designing a its own tablet the Hudl and Hudl2, which are actually two of the most highly rated tablets in the UK. It has also worked the Google Glass to develop a mobile app that would allow customers to order grocery items on the go by looking at the bar code.

According to Tesco, the intent of the app was not to replace the weekly shopping trip so much as an easy way to take note that you have run out of something.

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