Digital price tags might be popping up in shops all over the country, but experts say they're not likely to become a norm any time soon.

Instantaneous price tagging - prices displayed on tiny screens, rather than paper labels - is designed to improve the accuracy of pricing and productivity.

Supermarket giant Foodstuffs first introduced a digital price tag system almost 10 years ago with New World Hastings the first store to use the technology. Today, 45 of its 138 New World stores use electronic pricing.

Combined with other supermarket brands Pak'nSave and Four Square stores, 70 Foodstuffs stores use the technology.


New Zealand's largest retailer The Warehouse last month rolled out digital price tags to its Albany store, part of its 'concept store' which will test the market. It estimates instantaneous price changes will save staff between 10 and 20 hours each week.

Digital price tags are expensive, perhaps one of the reasons uptake in the technology has been slow to take hold.

Gavin Snowsill, owner and director of New Zealand Electronic Shelf Labelling, says his company installed its first digital pricing system around 13 years ago

The cost to introduce the technology to a single store is between $200,000 and $300,000.

A single price tag costs between $6 and $100, and a store can have up to 20,000.

Supermarkets have taken the lead in using the tech, along with retailers such as pharmacies, Snowsill says, and his company installs systems to one store each week.

Technological advances have allowed for coloured screens and replaceable batteries in digital price tags, a step up from older calculator-type screens.

The screens of new digital price tags use the same technology as Kindle e-readers.


Snowsill says New Zealand is ahead of Australia in the adoption of digital price tagging, with around 1 per cent of retail using it there compared to 30 per cent here.

Retail markets in France and Norway are almost completely electronic based.

Hardware store Mitre 10, in New Zealand, has begun experimenting with digital price tags, along with supermarket chain Countdown and other The Warehouse Group retailers such as Warehouse Stationery and Noel Leeming.

The Warehouse Albany has recently rolled out digital price tags. Photo / File
The Warehouse Albany has recently rolled out digital price tags. Photo / File

Mitre 10 Mega introduced a part-digital pricing system to its Porirua store. But that's the only store to have done so.

"Digital price tag technology is still relatively new and can be costly to implement," says Jules Lloyd-Jones, general marketing manager at Mitre 10 New Zealand.

"Digital tagging means price changes can be done seamlessly and in an instant, allowing our team to move faster to align with online price changes, saving both paper and time, and significantly reducing the margin for error."

The company, which operates on a co-operative ownership model, has no plans to rollout the technology to the rest of its stores, Lloyd-Jones says.

"As improvements are made to the screen technology and functionality, it will become more attractive."

Ben Goodale, managing director of marketing firm justONE, says digital price tags were not common in New Zealand, and often used to drive down business costs.

"I'm not too sure if they are really about the customer benefit as much as the organisational benefit," Goodale says.

Ben Goodale, managing director of justONE. Photo / Supplied
Ben Goodale, managing director of justONE. Photo / Supplied

"The consumer benefit is they should be seeing costs taken out of operations which can be used in keeping prices down.

"Whether they actually catch on with all retailers is the big question ... they may never catch on with all main retailers."

Snowsill believes digital price tagging will become mainstream in New Zealand, at least in certain industries.

"In New Zealand at the moment, we are doubling the amount of stores [implementing them] year on year.

"We've seen it growing but it's not just about digital price tags, it's about smart retail."

A spokeswoman for Foodstuffs says its supermarket store owners are given the option to adopt the pricing technology.

"Store teams love electronic tickets as they are so easily updated; saving on labour, reducing error rates and saving on printing and paper waste. They give us the opportunity to respond to pricing changes in real time, enabling us to pass on discounts or special deals at a moment's notice."