ORLANDO, Fla. -- The supermarket industry may be about to enter a new high-tech era of home shopping.
In a first-of-its-kind pilot program here, consumers would soon be able to purchase grocery and pharmacy items from their local supermarket via an interactive cable television network.
Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., is among the supermarket chains now being approached by a Time Warner network to participate.
Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable company in the United States, and Shopper-
Vision, a retail space management company, are backing the project, which would begin this fall. It is scheduled to be offered on Time Warner's interactive television home shopping network, the Full Service Network, set to roll out in the Orlando market this spring.
"It's too early for us to comment on what possible involvement we might have," said Mickey Clerc, vice president and director of advertising at Winn-Dixie. He did say, however, that the chain is aware of the new technology.
Under the cable shopping program, customers would be able to shop by interacting with a three-dimensional supermarket store on their television screens. They could view store shelf sets or displays, select products to view up close, and rotate products 360 degrees to read the entire package, including ingredients and directions, said Sandy Goldman, president and chief executive officer of ShopperVision, Norcross, Ga.
No premium will be added to the product's price for the service. A delivery charge of $9.95 is assessed for supermarket goods. Customers who want to pick up groceries will be charged $5. There will be no delivery charge for prescriptions called in to pharmacies by physicians, Goldman
said. Subscribers could shop any store that signs on to the service. Now that the agreement with Time Warner Cable has been cemented, the company will be making presentations to several Orlando retailers, including Winn-Dixie, he added.
Goldman expects ShopperVision to be in pilot tests in two or three other markets by the end of the year with other cable or telephone companies.
The service should especially appeal to people who are too busy or too tired to shop, Goldman said. "We've identified four key demographics: DINKS (Double Income, No Kids), DIWKS (Double Income With Kids), the elderly and the disabled. Obviously, people that are time pressured and those that physically have trouble going out to a store are key candidates."
ShopperVision is a spinoff of MarketWare, a retail space management company and developer of the Pegman planogram software. Time Warner Cable, Stamford, Conn., has 7.1 million customers in 36 states. It serves about 500,000 customers in its central Florida division.
Grocery shopping by TV would be the latest offering of in-home services that began more than seven years ago with shopping by telephone. Shopping by fax also has been available for several years. Most recently, shopping by personal computer rolled out in Chicago, San Francisco and other areas of the country.
"I think our service will reach the masses in any given market and it should be a lot more fun to shop when you can visually see the products than if you were shopping by phone or a personal computer," Goldman said.
"We think it's the perfect solution for home shopping. Consumers don't have to change the way they shop. They can browse the categories in a store just like they would if they were there. We're not creating a new type of store either in text or limited SKUs," he said.
Not everyone, though, is as enthusiastic about groceries' home shopping's prospects. "As long as people still like to squeeze oranges, you're going to have a basic barrier to doing this thing," said Gary Giblin, retail analyst with Paine Webber, New York. "I don't see it as having widespread acceptance. The [items] that really sell are jewelry, stuff that is more readily returned."