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We 'check out' latest supermarket ‘smart’ cart

Phil Lempert test-drives the Shopping Buddy cart, a grocery chain’s attempt to eliminate the annoying check-out line.
/ Source: TODAY

Talk to most supermarket shoppers and they will tell you that in many ways they love going to the supermarket — encountering new products, tasting free samples and finding bargains.

But then it comes time to check out….

Having enjoyed the displays and the picking-out of items, they are then faced with the task of taking their selections, putting them on a conveyor and then putting them back in their cart.

And, usually, of having to wait in line for such a dubious privilege.

Yes, dealing with the supermarket check-out line — including the horror of having kids screaming for the candy “conveniently” placed there by profit-hungry conglomerates — is among the least popular chores, according to many surveys. And while many supermarkets have installed “self-checkout” lanes, only a third of consumers, according to a ACNielsen Homescan consumer panel of over 61,000 Americans, believe this kind of help-yourself method goes any way near to creating a solution.

Plainly, supermarkets need to figure out better ways to check out. And many of them are trying to come up with an answer.

One chain in particular, Stop & Shop, a chain based in the Boston area, is seeking to change the whole way we shop for groceries — including the dreaded check-out lane.

To find out more, we traveled to Braintree, Mass., to, um, check out Stop & Shop’s Shopping Buddy. We also looked at IBM’s Everywhere Display, a new in-store tool for marketing products to consumers.

The Shopping Buddy
Based on a two-year evaluation of what shoppers actually wanted as they shop, the Shopping Buddy is a wireless touch-screen device that is attached to a shopping cart and scans in items placed in the cart by shoppers. It also delivers personalized services and incentives when activated with a frequent-shopper card. Each cart also has a RFID (radio frequency identification tag) which triggers certain offers and can help shoppers find anything in the store and draw a path to find it.

The highlights:Based on the shopper’s frequent shopper card, your buying history and favorite items are available in real time as you shop — you also have the ability to download your shopping list at home and email it to the device to eliminate the need for carrying (and losing?) that piece of paper.

  • As you shop, you can scan in each item — it will keep a running total of how much you are spending — and actually eliminate the need to wait in line at the check-out. You can also check the price of each item before you buy.
  • As you walk down the aisles, and promotions and paperless coupons “pop-up” on the screen. Want to take advantage of that special deal? Just touch the screen and scan the item.
  • You can place an order at the deli — from anywhere in the store — and when it’s ready, you receive a notification to pick it up. No more taking a number and standing in line!

The IBM Everywhere DisplayBeamed from the supermarket ceiling, this device transforms surface into an interactive computer. In a supermarket, you will be likely to confront it on the floor, where you can access information by tapping your foot on the display.

So, if you are, say, in the breakfast cereals section, and want to find out information about the products around you — or have specific dietary needs — you can use the display to find out more.

  • Using the ceiling beams, it will then point you to the product it thinks most closely fits your needs.
  • If you disagree with its choice, you can go back to the display for further information and options.

So, when will every store in America be as easy and fun to shop?

According to Stop & Shop, the Shopping Buddy will be rolled out to another 20 stores in early 2005 with an additional 150 installations in both Stop & Shop and its sister chain Giant (in the Washington, D.C., area) by the end of 2005.

Phil Lempert’s Bottom Line:My prediction is that as this technology becomes cheaper and more compact, we can expect to see both cart-mounted computers and Everywhere-type displays in practically all supermarkets and mass retailers by 2008.

For more information visit:Phil’s Web site for the latest information about supermarket trends and new products:

Stop & Shop Supermarkets: