High Tech Shopping Carts Keep Track Of Your Grocery List And Avoid The Checkout Counter
Tuesday January 15, 2008
It's something you take for granted and probably never think about. But what may be coming to a grocery store near you is an upgrade unlike anything ever seen in a supermarket. And it has the potential to speed up your grocery buying experience - and just maybe, creep you out a bit.
It's a new shopping cart that comes from Microsoft and a Texas company called MediaCart Holdings. What's the big deal about such an old time invention? It's gone from being one of those steel contraptions with the wobbly wheels to a high tech gizmo that actually gives you information as you go.
The new carts allow shoppers to go to a website before they leave home, type in their grocery list, then swipe their loyalty card at the store and have it appear on the device's screen as they parade up and down the aisles.
It's able to point out products you want that are on sale as well as give you information about similar goods that may be half off, a kind of instant coupon.
And it will keep a running tab of exactly how much you owe and even let you pay for it all without getting into a checkout line. The computerized cart will also automatically remove items from your list as you put them into the carrier.
So what's the downside? In a word, advertising. That screen that provides so much info will also be used to bombard you with messages about products and specials that you may have a hard time ignoring.
And there's a Big Brother aspect that may leave some shoppers feeling squeamish. The cart comes with a RFID chip that tells the computer where you are in the store and displays ads that correspond to the products available there.
Enter the cookie aisle and you may see an ad for Oreos. Go near the O.J. section and it may tell why Tropicana is the kind of juice you should be buying. And it has a memory, which means your past purchases could be used to try and guide you into making future ones.
But the developers insist consumers will get as much out of the new device as advertisers, and the updated cart has the potential to introduce a whole new revenue stream to an industry that's hardly known as a high tech player.
"This is not all necessarily about bombarding consumers, about targeting advertising," points out Microsoft's Scott Ferris. "It's about also making the shopping experience better for the consumer."
He vows advertisers won't get access to your personal data, but can receive instant feedback about what people in general are buying, helping them to improve their products - and their pitches.
The new carts will be tested in the second half of 2008 in selected chains in the U.S. There's no word yet on when you may be using one in a Canadian store.