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August 9, 2021

Arsen Avakian of Cooler Screens: Delivering an Immersive Brick-and-Mortar Retail Experience

Written by: Satta Sarmah Hightower
“Retailers are going to have to step up to the game and make those new digital experiences available in a physical brick-and-mortar environment. Otherwise, consumers are going to have this continuous disappointment between what they’ve gotten used to online, but can’t find in a physical store.”— Arsen Avakian, Co-Founder and CEO of Cooler Screens

The cooler aisle typically offers a very static experience. You look through a wall of transparent glass, pick up an item, and drop it into your cart — end of story. 

But Cooler Screens is trying to make the brick-and-mortar retail experience much more immersive. The company is transforming traditional cooler doors into digital doors and creating new marketing opportunities for retailers and brands. 

In a recent episode of the Unpacking the Digital Shelf podcast, “The Future of Retail Media That’s Lifting In-Store Sales by 3-5%,” Cooler Screens co-founder and CEO Arsen Avakian shared how his company is creating more digital touchpoints in stores and why context targeting rather than data-driven personalization may be the future of retail media. 

Turning the Physical Shelf Into the Digital Shelf 

Cooler Screens is a digital point-of-sale media platform that uses a combination of artificial intelligence (AI), edge computing and IoT-enabled sensors to deliver a media and information-rich shopper experience.

Avakian says the goal of Cooler Screens is to combine digital and physical shopping experiences.

“Cooler Screens brings the best of online shopping in store. We win the hearts of consumers by digitizing different surfaces around the store. We started with the cooler and freezer aisle, converting those relatively ugly doors on coolers and freezers into beautiful digital screens that provide the richness of an ecommerce-like user experience. We turn a physical shelf into a digital shelf inside the store,” Akavian says.

Delivering an immersive experience inside stores is critical because, even though ecommerce exploded during the pandemic, brick-and-mortar stores still account for the majority of retail sales, according to Digital Commerce 360. As Avakian says, “Retail isn’t dead,” which means retailers and brands will need to be even more responsive to consumers’ needs. 

“Retailers are going to have to step up to the game and provide those new digital experiences available in a physical brick and mortar environment,” Avakian says. “Otherwise, consumers are going to have this continuous disappointment between what they’ve gotten used to online, but can’t find in a physical store.”

Removing Friction for Consumers

Digitizing cooler doors could reduce much of the friction consumers experience when they shop today.

It’s not uncommon to see someone scanning the aisles for a product, while using their phone to compare prices or look up a recipe that includes the frozen spinach they just put in their cart.

“The consumer was begging for more information using their personal device in their hand, which obviously is an awkward experience versus having a seamless, frictionless experience as you’re shopping,” Avakian says.

Cooler Screens delivers this education to consumers in a contextually relevant way, while also giving retailers and brands another touchpoint they can use to engage shoppers. 

By serving a relevant promotion right at the point of sale, brands can help consumers make a much more informed buying decision — and potentially boost their sales in the process. 

The Power of Contextual Targeting 

What makes Cooler Screens so unique is that it delivers contextually-relevant advertising to consumers at the point of purchase — without relying on customer data.

“As much as I think marketers, in a kind of a theoretical world, thought this one-to-one personalization and targeting is going to be so cool, it doesn't work any better than what we are doing, which is what we call contextual targeting,” Avakian says. “Privacy by design was at the heart of how we thought of the technology and our business model.”

With the help of IoT-enabled sensors, Cooler Screens is able to pick up on contextual cues from shoppers. For example, if it’s a hot weekday afternoon and a customer is lingering in front of a cooler filled with ice cream for several seconds, their intent is likely to buy ice cream. 

Cooler Screens can make the buying process easier by providing information on a digital screen to help consumers narrow their selections, whether they care about price, flavor, or being dairy-free. 

“We have the IoT sensors that only look at the motion and the presence of the customers versus knowing or tracking them. This is the beauty of doing this in a physical world with the technology where the intent is almost so obvious.” — Arsen Avakian, Co-Founder and CEO of Cooler Screens

Driving Results 

Avakian adds that this approach has driven results. The stores that use Cooler Screens’ technology are experiencing 3-5% incremental same-store sales lift, on average. In addition, the brands that advertise on these digital doors may see 5-10% lift, Avakian says.

“We believe in a contextual advertising model, which looks at the behavioral signals and the environmental signals together,” Akavian says. “We lift sales, almost guaranteed, at levels that far exceed the old model of advertising, which is the one-to-one personalized IP or individual identity-based [model]. We’re seeing sales lift across the board.”

Building Brand Equity

Cooler Screens is giving retailers and brands a digital canvas they can use to tell a more immersive brand story. 

The company has already done activations with several companies, including Argo Tea, Life WTR, Miller Lite, Dr. Pepper, and Red Bull. With Life WTR, for example, Cooler Screens was able to grow the brand’s sales faster compared to non-digital stores, while also helping Life WTR outpace competitors in its category during the advertising flight. 

Miller Lite grew at nearly double the rate of its entire category during the activation period, while Red Bull increased sales 24% year over year for its special winter edition seasonal flavor. 

“These are the moments where yes, it's a promotion. Yes, it's advertising, but it's relevant,” Avakian says.

Avakian also says these activations allow brands to build emotional connections with their products and create “moments of brand equity building, which you then couple with traditional on-the-shelf performance marketing and shopper trade marketing elements.”

For arguably the first time in a physical environment, brands may be able to gauge whether their media is working. Even as the pendulum gradually shifts toward more online shopping, this will be extremely valuable for companies and may finally help them bridge the gap between digital and brick-and-mortar. 

“Let's bring the best of digital inside the physical,” Avakian says, “and let's give consumers the best of both worlds.”

Listen to the full podcast episode to learn more about how your brand can create more digital touchpoints in stores and why context targeting may be the future of retail media.