Wednesday, October 10, 2007

High-Tech Shopping Carts

U.S. technology services company EDS outlined a concept that would create a grocery cart that would warn shoppers them if they're buying too much junk food. The high-tech cart will be fitted with a computer screen and barcode scanner. This way a shopper can scan each product's individual code to give customers information about calories, nutrition, ethical sourcing and the environment.

On behalf of EDS, international food and grocery expert IGD conducted a study of grocery consumers.

· 95% of people want nutritional information
· 93% want ethical information
· 92% look for environmental information

Other survey information:
· 22% of people want information on country of origin of fresh products (fruit, vegetables and meat). A similar number
. 21% want information about locally and regionally sourced produce
· 19% of people requested information on whether their products were free range
· 15% of people wanted to see a Fairtrade logo on the fruit and vegetables that they buy
· 78% of people say they prefer to get information from on-pack labelling.
· 46% of shoppers want retailers to cut back on unnecessary packaging.

EDS says the screens would reduce the need for extensive packaging which would help stores to tackle environmental concerns and provide consumers with products that have less packaging. In addition, the barcode readers will calculate the nutritional content and ingredients.

It’s high-time that the humble barcode is recognised as a practical and cost-effective solution to consumers’ thirst for information. RFID chips will have an important role to play in the future as information about individual items becomes more important. But retailers don’t need to wait for RFID chips to come down in price before responding to consumer information demands. We want to work with retailers to give shoppers the information they need to make informed choices sooner rather than later.

- Sion Roberts, EMEA Industry Leader for Consumer Industries & Retail, EDS

However with connivance comes commercialism. Imaging grabbing a cart to do a quick grocery shop for a week worth of work lunch and snacks and hearing a lovely voice tell you that there's a nice white wine in Aisle 6 that would go perfectly with your park picnic lunch meat. Or “jazz up your lunch with your favorite brand of salami which just happens to be on sale and, by the way, it's been six weeks since you bought toilet paper.”

Other companies including Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard are also working on similar shopping cart consumer assistance technology products. IBM's Dan Hopping said a shopping cart could eventually be outfitted to interact with the shelves so a shopper could see an ad or an offer about chicken noodle soup just as he heads into the soup section.

Kathryn Cullen, a technology specialist at Kurt Salmon Associates, a retail-consulting firm, said "This is a very sensitive topic. I may not want the store to be broadcasting what I bought last time I was in here. You're getting closer and closer to being inside my home. On the other hand, consumers have a history of eventually acceding to such intrusion for the sake of convenience. “

The Concierge system provides shoppers with a wireless, touchscreen computer which can provide interactive advertising and other content to shoppers. The system can be set up to automatically display relevant products after scanning a bar-coded frequent shopper card. It can also scan products in the cart, letting shoppers keep track of their shopping list and their current cart total. The Concierge can also be set up to allow for self-checkout in your cart, and can be outfitted with a wireless credit/debit card reader to facilitate purchases without waiting in line. Other features include an live product search, store directory and a recipe database.

One company has found a way to do what parents cannot – keep their children quiet at the grocery store. TV Kart is a creation from Publix Super Markets in Atlanta, Georgia which are still testing out a new high-tech shopping cart for kids while their parents are doing the grocery shopping.

The TV Kart is a small, car-shaped cart with a TV screen that plays children's shows, such as The Wiggles and Bob the Builder. The carts are electric and have brakes built in, but parents will have to pay $1 to use them - for the convenience of keeping their children quiet and oh I don’t know avoid the dirty looks and nasty comments from other shoppers? Could I pay a parent to use it?

In contrast, it's only a small jump from children's TV programming to advertising - and once the kid is in the cart, the battle cry to get the parents to buy whatever the child wants is nearly won.

On the horizon, is the day when every product is tagged with an RFID, or radio frequency identification chip, instead of a bar code. The chips, which would no longer have to be scanned, would allow shoppers to leave the store without checking out at all and get the bill on their credit card or store account.

The next ten years should be interesting as technology advances in new and exciting ways to advertise commercial products to us in new and fancier ways.

Information Engineer

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