Thursday, November 13, 2008

High-Tech Grocery Shopping

When you think of the list of after-work activities that fall under the theme of "high-tech", grocery shopping is probably last on your list, right? Wrong. A Canadian company is helping a U.S. grocer make shopping a technology-infused experience through functions like tracking shopping behaviour, making recommendations, and, probably the most appealing feature, instantly scanning items so there's no loading and unloading of products or long line-ups. Sounds like heaven, doesn't it?

Called Concierge, the system was developed by Toronto, ON-based Springboard Retail Networks Inc., and will be available on 125 shopping carts in the Bloom grocery store in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Shoppers simply boot up a PC on the cart itself upon arrival, then activate functions via the touch-screen interface. Not sure which aisle carries canned peas? The system will guide you there. Forget the name of that spice needed for your husband's favourite chicken dish? You can pull up recipes and meal-planning suggestions. Can't remember if you have any eggs left at home? The system will track your shopping behaviour over time, then make recommendations based on prior purchases or even based on what you've already picked up. All of your purchases and data is stored via a customer loyalty card, which is scanned via the system once you've got the cart rolling. This same card is used at check-out as well.

Of course there are some potential Big Brother-esque drawbacks. For one, you can expect to receive targeted advertising based on prior purchases. But then again, this might actually come in handy during your visit. Of course the advertising, as well as the complementary recommendations, can also lead to you spending more on groceries than originally planned. I already find that going to pick up a "few things" is virtually impossible to accomplish, so when there's a computer in my ear suggesting even more, my grocery bills would likely skyrocket! And then of course, there's the collection of customer data. The retailer will track information like stats, buying habits, lifestyle, and times you visit the store. While this is helpful when looked at on a large scale and taking all customer data into account, some might frown upon having a store know more about them then they'd like.

Aside from the Big Brother issues, the technology also poses another question: you don't have to unload items on a conveyer belt to scan, but then how do they get into bags? Are you supposed to bag items yourself? Does a sales clerk bag them for you? Either way, wouldn't this lead to back-ups at the check out anyway? After all, I doubt anyone will load their items, one at a time, into the trunk of a car!

With that said, it is still a pretty darned cool system, and really shows the potential of technology to help make the shopping experience quicker, more interactive, and most important, helpful to the everyday consumer. And for retailers, the sophisticated shopping experience will undoubtedly result in more items being sold. So it's really a win-win for everyone.

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1 comment:

Ben Saur said...

I live in Massachusetts and Stop & Shop offers a similar devices that is a hand held scanner. Once you enter the store you scan your loyalty card and are given a scanner. As you walk through the isles and select an item you scan it. I have used it a few times so far and actually like it. It makes checkout so much faster. I recommend trying it if you get a chance.