MILWAUKEE -- Wholesaler Roundy's has opened a new corporate Pick 'n Save store here that will serve as a testing ground for a number of technology-based applications aimed at consumers, including a wireless Internet cafe, biometric payment system, line-buster handhelds and a wireless point-of-sale cart.
"We created a bit of a different store here," explained John Boyle, group vice president of information technology and business process, Roundy's, also based here. "It's a good place to have customers experience technology in a real environment, rather than in a conference room. We're not necessarily trying to attract a certain type of customer. The lab environment was created to see who is interested in using what."
Given the store's urban setting, "I suspect that shoppers will comprise a mix of demographics," added Boyle.
Roundy's store, which opened Aug. 17, comes just a few months after Food Lion launched its own technology-focused store, the new Bloom format in the Charlotte, N.C., area. Since late May, four Bloom stores have opened, with a fifth expected in mid-October.
Like the new Pick 'n Save, Bloom features several customer-oriented applications, including information kiosks and handheld scanners that shoppers can use during the shopping trip. Bloom also features a wireless POS station, but does not currently offer biometric payment or an Internet cafe.
Roundy's plans on gauging customer reactions to the new store via exit interviews. Organized information collection will commence within the next few months, said Boyle, who has already begun observing shoppers' behavior.
"The Internet cafe has had pretty light usage so far," he acknowledged. "But the store is still new, and [the cafe] is the least-advertised feature."
The Internet cafe offers customers wireless Internet access in an environment outfitted with couches and small tables. Coffee is also available within the cafe, which also features a fireplace.
Shoppers who bring their laptops to the store can obtain several hours of online access by obtaining a login ID and password at the deli counter. Once their time is up, customers must obtain another login ID and password to continue. Similarly, subsequent visits would require new login and password information. Wireless coverage extends to picnic tables outside of the store.
Another feature of the technology-focused store is a biometric payment system from Pay By Touch, San Francisco. The system links a customer's finger scan to her payment method of choice, including debit and credit cards. Roundy's hopes the system will add customer convenience while speeding up the checkout process.
"Shoppers have shown a lot of interest in this feature," said Boyle. "So far, [adoption rates] have exceeded our expectations." He declined to provide specifics.
Roundy's has also invested in Line Buster handheld terminals, from Symbol Technologies, Holtsville, N.Y., to expedite the checkout process. Associates wielding the terminals can use them to reduce the length of checkout lines.
"The handheld computer lets us scan any item with a bar code and accept payment in the form of a check or debit card," Boyle explained.
To allow line-busting associates to scan produce, the new Pick 'n Save features printer-equipped scales, from Hobart, Troy, Ohio, in the produce department. These printers produce scannable bar-code labels that can be applied to produce bags. Bloom offers a similar scale so that shoppers can scan their own produce purchases.
The scale is "a self-service function which generally requires no additional assistance," said Boyle. "Occasionally, a customer has a question about the feature."
Checkout lines at the new Pick 'n Save have also been reduced through use of a portable, battery-powered POS station. The station uses the same POS system, based on IBM software and NCR hardware, used at the standard checkout lanes.
"It's a full-blown POS system on wheels that we can take to different areas of the store when lines become too long," said Boyle. "We've gotten lots more use out of it than we thought we would. Because it's portable, it can also be used for things like sidewalk sales."
The creation of more stores featuring similar technological capabilities is dependent on the success of the new Pick 'n Save, according to Boyle, who added that it is too soon to tell. "It will take us a good six months just to get experience with each of the new features," he explained. Roundy's operates 120 corporate stores under the Pick 'n Save, Copps and Rainbow Foods banners.