Viewpoints

Technologies Should Make Shopping More Efficient

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Tesco's South Korean chain, Home Plus, is helping commuters solve the “what's for dinner tonight” quandary on their way to work.

According to an MIT report, the chain has transformed a subway station into a virtual grocery store with wallpaper resembling a well-stocked aisle. Commuters “shop” by scanning quick response codes that correspond to products. Groceries are paid for via smartphone and delivered to one's doorstep by the time they return home.

While Home Plus' U.S. counterparts may be a long way from such seamless convenience, a host of new technologies may soon improve the efficiency with which time-crunched Americans (and tourists) shop.

Just last week, the U.S.'s first virtual assistant reported for duty at Duane Reade's new flagship store on Wall Street in Manhattan. The holographic imaging and audio-visual technology is made to look like a woman who delivers messages about the store's doctor on premise, smoothies bar and other special amenities.

Though the assistant isn't interactive yet, future versions may allow shoppers to scan a product and hear promotional information, as well as answers to frequently asked questions, in their native language, said the technology's spokesman Keith Carpentier. This is smart since a large tourist population frequents the Ground Zero neighborhood.

Meijer will also soon try something new when it introduces version 2.0 of its Find-It app that relies on a combination of GPS, Wi-Fi and cellular towers to tell where in the store a particular shopper is.

A new feature plots the most efficient route for picking up items on a shopper's list. As they enter the store, a pin marks the closest product on an in-store map. Once there, destination #2 is marked.

The capability will likely be a hit since both the retailer and users benefit. The quicker a shopper finds what they need, the more time they'll spend contemplating incremental purchases. Though the app is free, I'd pay money for it, especially during busy holiday times when the hunt for obscure ingredients makes for extra long shopping trips

The app will also use a recommendation engine that pushes custom messages to users based on their current location in the store, purchase history and the items on their list. A shopper headed for dog food, for instance, might get a message about private-label dog food when they enter the pet aisle.

The tool has potential to add value, especially if relevant coupons are pushed, but Meijer also risks muddling up shopper's quest by messaging them too frequently.

Wegmans is so concerned with getting things right with shoppers that it recently took into account suggestions from 1,000 of them when updating its mobile app.

Among their recommendations was a recently debuted product scanner that lets users populate a list by scanning barcodes at home. Having abandoned use of Wegmans' previous app's list builder after the process proved tedious, I'm eager to give it a try.

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Contributors

David Orgel

David Orgel is executive director, content & user engagement, of Supermarket News (SN) and its website, SupermarketNews.com. Orgel delivers his opinions on industry trends through a bi-weekly...

Carol Angrisani

Carol Angrisani is an associate editor at Supermarket News. Along with covering the packaged goods beat, she also manages SN’s annual private-label and ethnic marketing supplements. Carol...
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