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An ethnography of Electronic Shelf Labels: The resisted digitalization of prices in contemporary supermarkets

Journal article
Authors Bastien Soutjis
Franck Cochoy
Johan Hagberg
Published in Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services
Volume 39
Pages 296-304
ISSN 0969-6989
Publication year 2017
Published at Centre for Retailing
Department of Business Administration, Marketing Group
Pages 296-304
Language en
Keywords Market studies; Electronic shelf labels; Price representation; Retailing; Visibility
Subject categories Business Administration, Sociology


Contemporary retail markets have experienced and are experiencing an important digitalization shift in the form of computers and associated technologies. Among a large array of digital innovations, Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs) deserve particular attention. ESLs, despite their long history and many benefits, have not become ubiquitous. The purpose of this paper is to account for this “resisted evolution” of digitalized prices. It draws theoretically upon science and technology studies, infrastructure studies, market studies, and previous literature on price representations in retailing. It draws empirically on a combination of ethnographic and historical methods. The paper shows that ESLs do not replace paper prices, but, rather, work together with them: on one hand, they compete to represent prices with their respective features, and on the other, they co-operate in order to reinforce the visibility and attractiveness of products and promotions.

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