Imagine walking into your local Walgreens and, as you make your way over to the refrigerator section, the walls start to glow. Instead of the usual see-through glass, you’re looking at screens with digital images and flashing promotions. 

This is exactly what happened to Katharine Schwab, associate editor at Fast Company. In an article published in February 2019, Schwab explains Cooler Screens’ pilot product, commercial freezer and refrigerator doors equipped with cameras, motion sensors and eye-tracking. 

“The doors can discern your gender, your general age range, what products you’re looking at, how long you’re standing there, and even what your emotional response is to a particular product.

“The company says that the doors don’t store any of this data, which is anonymized, meaning that it won’t know that when you go to your local pharmacy you always buy ice cream (however, studies have shown that anonymized data, especially in cities, is possible to de-anonymize). Instead, it will use the data it’s collecting on you in real time to show you ads and promotions that the algorithm has determined might be relevant to you.” 

While I’m quite familiar with eye-tracking studies, shop-alongs and even virtual aisles that gather insight from shopper interactions, it felt a little out-of-this world to hear about behavior-analyzing, IoT-enabled screens being tested in neighborhood pharmacies. 

There are obvious benefits to advertisers – Cooler Screens reports products that were advertised “had more than 20 percent year-over-year growth in sales compared to other products” in the first two months of its initial pilot – but I wonder about the long-term benefit vs. cost to consumers. Other than avoiding stores that use the screens, there is no way to opt-out of being tracked. 


To be honest, I’m a low-tech Millennial. If you say “OK Alexa” in my house you’ll be met with silence and while I have an iPhone, it’s old (and I really don’t use Siri). So the idea of the freezer door at Walgreens collecting data on me in real-time makes me uneasy. And since we’re in a world where data privacy concerns are turning into strict regulations – think GDPR and CCPA – I’m concerned about the potential repercussions of a future with stores around the country collecting this much data (again, it is possible to de-anonymize data).  

Many of the people Schwab interviewed seem to think tech like IoT-enabled freezer doors are an inevitable part of the future, but only time – and consumer reaction – will tell.  

After reading the article, I was left with dozens of questions. Will this type of data collection affect the marketing research industry? Is this another launch into too-much-data-too-little-insights? Or is there real value to tracking shopper behavior in-store and providing targeted advertising? Will companies like Cooler Screens improve the customer experience? What steps will brands take to manage concerns regarding consumer stereotyping? How will companies remain transparent about data use and privacy?