Smart shopping cart ‘Veggie Vision’ promises to make your trip to supermarket more fun

Associated Press

Hawthorne, New York

Researchers at IBM recently assembled several high-tech machines for a demonstration at their Industry Solutions Lab in Hawthorne. Among them were the smart shopping cart, a computerised produce scale called ‘Veggie Vision’ and a fascinating projection tentatively dubbed the ‘Everything Display’.

Some are being tested in stores while others are in various stages of development. Other companies including NCR, Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard are also working on similar products, sometimes in partnerships. “We’ll see more change in the next five years in the way people shop than in the last 20,” said Dan Hopping, a consulting manager with IBM who specialises in store operations and merchandising.

Kate Delhagen, a retail analyst with Forrester Research in Atlanta, said that until now, most shoppers have seen high-tech applications only at the checkout counter, with its credit card swiper and bar-code scanner. “Now, the number of applications is multiplying and consumers are becoming more familiar with computer interfaces. There’s a lot of experimentation, gadgets and gizmos, a lot of high-tech things happening in a lot of different stores.”

Many of the applications can be used in any retail setting, but grocers especially are “under tremendous pressure right now to create a better in-store experience for their customers or they’re going to lose them on price to Wal-Mart,” she said. The smart shopping cart looks like a normal one except for an interactive screen and scanner mounted near the shopper. Once the shopper swipes his store card, his shopping history is available for all purposes, from presenting a suggested shopping list to alerting him to discounts or reminding him about perishables purchased a month ago.

If the customer scans her purchases herself for self-checkout, the cart will know about the salmon she just bought and can suggest a wine or a recipe. The smart cart raises concerns about privacy for many people. Kathryn Cullen, a technology specialist at Kurt Salmon Associates, a retail consulting firm, said some retailers are shying away from such extensive use of the store card, also known as a ‘loyalty card’. “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, she said, consumers have a history of eventually acceding to such intrusion for the sake of convenience. “Look at the E-Z Pass,” an electronic pass stuck on the windshield that pays tolls automatically,” she said. “They know where we’re going but we use it anyway just to save time.”

On the horizon, the consultants say, is the day when every product is tagged with an RFID, or radio frequency identification chip, instead of a bar code. The chips, which don’t 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.