Technology has once again gone too far. Walgreens is rolling out more and more digital fridge and freezer doors from Cooler Screens—CNN reports that there are about 10,000 screens out there at the moment—and customers are confused. The way these doors work is that they display an exact digital image of what is in the cooler so customers can choose what they want before opening the door (ya know, kind of like what clear glass does). But before allowing customers to grab their favorite convenience store treat, a flashy ad for a specific brand plays on the screen.
Cooler Screens seems to want us to think this was our idea. “90%+ of consumers no longer prefer traditional glass cooler doors,” its website boasts. But the fine print shows only a couple thousand people were surveyed to reach this number, and the internet’s initial reaction to seeing the screens in stores seems to suggest that percentage may be extremely inflated.
Both Cooler Screens and Walgreens are touting that they’re solving a major problem in the physical retail space, but what’s still unclear is exactly what problem they think they’re solving.
The appeal to brands is clear: the Cooler Screens doors play targeted digital ads for various products behind the cooler door before actually showing the entirety of what’s available. Technology tracks when a customer is stopped outside a door, and because of that Cooler Screens says on its website that it has tracked 100% verified views at “the moment of truth,” or the seconds before the consumer decides what they’ll actually grab.
These ads benefit the stores in which the Cooler Screens are placed, too—retailers get a cut of the digital spots bought by brands. It’s no wonder businesses like Target and Walgreens would be on board with the extra money going straight into their pockets.
The business behind these strange cooler doors states its goal is to bring the “science of e-commerce to brick-and-mortar retail.” The site claims that “Consumer experience is at the heart of our design.” The supplemental details that follow suggest that the main part of the consumer experience they’re thinking about is privacy, assuring us that the technology is “identity-blind” and not tracking any details about the customers who come into contact with these doors. That’s all well and good, but that still doesn’t quite reveal how the actual on-the-spot, about-to-buy-a-Diet-Coke experience is in any way centered around the consumer.
A Walgreens spokesperson tells CNN that the digital coolers present customers with “relevant product information” that helps them decide what to buy. Internal cameras track inventory of what’s in the coolers and display that information on the screen. Of course, you don’t get to see that information until after an ad plays—an ad for a product that may or may not be the one you’re hunting for. It’s almost as if simply opening a cooler door and looking inside would give you the same information in a much more efficient manner.
Cooler Screens does have plans to launch future features like voice recognition, allowing shoppers to ask questions about prices or item locations. This feels at least like a step in the direction of considering what customers may actually want out of this technology, but that will likely raise the question of privacy all over again.
Maybe the company won’t even make it that far. If the people of TikTok aren’t happy with Cooler Screens, then those screens may not be long for this world.