Smart shopping cart â€˜Veggie Visionâ€™ promises to make your trip to supermarket more fun
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 â€˜Veggie Visionâ€™ and a fascinating projection tentatively dubbed the â€˜Everything Displayâ€™.
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. â€œWeâ€™ll see more change in the next five years in the way people shop than in the last 20,â€ 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. â€œNow, the number of applications is multiplying and consumers are becoming more familiar with computer interfaces. Thereâ€™s a lot of experimentation, gadgets and gizmos, a lot of high-tech things happening in a lot of different stores.â€
Many of the applications can be used in any retail setting, but grocers especially are â€œunder tremendous pressure right now to create a better in-store experience for their customers or theyâ€™re going to lose them on price to Wal-Mart,â€ 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 â€˜loyalty cardâ€™. â€œThis is a very sensitive topic. I may not want the store to be broadcasting what I bought last time I was in here. Youâ€™re getting closer and closer to being inside my home.â€
On the other hand, she said, consumers have a history of eventually acceding to such intrusion for the sake of convenience. â€œLook at the E-Z Pass,â€ an electronic pass stuck on the windshield that pays tolls automatically,â€ she said. â€œThey know where weâ€™re going but we use it anyway just to save time.â€
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 donâ€™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.