Delivering Power to the Retail Shelf of the Future

03 February 2020


The retail shelves of the past were passive pieces of metal. The retail shelves of the future are active. They are loaded with sensors, displays, and intelligence. To achieve this, they need power.

Why do retail shelves need power? Here are a few reasons:

  • To provide lighting that beautifies the products and makes shopping easier.
  • To sense how much merchandise is on the shelf, alerting the retailer to out-of-stock or low-stock situations, and assisting in the correct placement of merchandise.
  • To allow electronic shelf labels (ESLs) that display useful information and allow the retailer to conveniently change prices at will.
  • To power electronic endcap signs that attract shoppers and draw their attention to special deals.
  • To power sensors that help save energy, such as to turn off the lights when shoppers are not in the proximity of the shelf.
  • To power cameras that can help with personalizing the shopping experience, reduce theft or monitor inventory.


How can these sensors, displays and other devices be powered?

Some can be battery-powered, but batteries need to be replaced or recharged, and disposing of them creates an environmental concern. A large retail store might have tens of thousands of battery-operated devices, resulting in an endless ‘whack-a-mole’ chase to replace them.

Some shelves can be wired. But routing wires on the retail floor can create a safety hazard, and dropping them from the ceiling can be ugly, expensive, or both.

This is where wireless power can help. Safe, efficient delivery of meaningful energy at a distance can deliver power to the shelves, helping retailers move from a dumb shelf to a smart one.

Additional considerations

If power is to be delivered to sensors, displays and other intelligent devices on the retail shelf, should it be delivered to the shelf itself or to the device? There is something to be said in favor of each approach.

Delivering power directly to the device (e.g. the ESL) decouples the device from anything else that is happening on the shelf. However, it requires deploying tens of thousands of wireless power receivers, potentially causing a substantial increase in the cost of the ESL, to the chagrin of the retailer.

Delivering power to the shelf (or to the gondola – the vertical collection of shelves) requires much fewer receivers but then requires a method to distribute the power from the shelf to the powered devices. This can be with a short wire or by implementing low-voltage ‘power rails’ on the shelf.

In summary

Delivering power to the retail shelf is important for retailers that want to step into the more intelligent, more personalized, more connected future of retail. Long-range wireless power can help retailers do this quickly and efficiently.

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