Will Stop & Shop’s latest in-store shopping device, EasyShop — successor to the Shopping Buddy — win over consumers?
In the laboratory that is the modern supermarket, the development of a mobile in-store shopping device has been a long, hard slog, but it is showing signs of progress.
Probably at the forefront of this effort is Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass., a division of Ahold that operates 389 stores. The chain began testing the Shopping Buddy, a time- and money-saving touchscreen computer tablet with a small detachable scanner, in 2004, and offered it in as many as two dozen stores last year.
Building on earlier attempts at a shopping cart system like VideoCart, the Shopping Buddy, which shoppers would place in a slot by the handlebar of their cart, did many things — too many, as Stop & Shop discovered. It allowed shoppers to scan and bag as they shopped, select and submit deli orders, locate items in the store and receive targeted offers as they strolled down an aisle.
Last year, Stop & Shop decided to remove the Shopping Buddy from the last 16 stores where it resided and replace it with a much smaller and simpler unit dubbed EasyShop. This handheld device, which resembles (and can serve as) the inventory scanning tool commonly used by store employees, was introduced last October and is now in 100 Stop & Shop stores, Robert Keane, Stop & Shop's media relations manager, told SN in an email communication. Stop & Shop is looking at other locations where EasyShop “would be a good fit,” he said.
The evolution of shopping devices at Stop & Shop reflects the challenge retailers face in figuring out “which [in-store] technologies to use and what role they should play,” said Nikki Baird, managing partner, Retail Systems Research, Boston, in a Motorola-sponsored white paper on mobile technology used by consumers. “Providing a technology solution for a moving [consumer] target is extremely difficult.”
EasyShop combines software from Modiv Media (the software provider for Shopping Buddy), Quincy, Mass., and hardware from Motorola, Holtsville, N.Y. Stop & Shop, the only current user of the EasyShop device, has a representative — its chief financial officer, Robert K. Rojas — on the board of Modiv Media.
In addition to allowing loyalty card shoppers to scan and bag items as they traverse the store, EasyShop also keeps a running total of purchases and displays a dozen full-color targeted offers shoppers can scroll through. The offers, derived from the particular shopper's purchase history and exclusive to device users, flash on the screen based on location, the last item scanned and the time the shopper has been in the store. Modiv Media selects and delivers the offers to the devices.
The biggest lesson Stop & Shop learned from its Shopping Buddy trial, and subsequently incorporated into EasyShop, is the need for simplicity. “Shopping Buddy taught us that while customers are willing to use new and different technology to aid them in grocery shopping, they were looking for a simpler, more user-friendly experience,” said Keane.
“With EasyShop, we gave the customer a single unit [as opposed to the separate tablet and scanner pieces of Shopping Buddy] to make things simpler, and we ported over the features that customers used most often.” The features not brought over to EasyShop from Shopping Buddy include deli ordering and product location.
Keane said that since EasyShop was introduced last October, shoppers have taken to it faster than they did with Shopping Buddy. “We believe that is because EasyShop is very intuitive, and the streamlined design makes it much easier to simply pick up and use.” Stop & Shop plans to add features to the device based on shopper feedback while “keeping the device simple and easy to use,” he added.
Further driving the acceptance of a self-scanning device like EasyShop is the growth of the self-checkout lane, where shoppers have become “attuned to do-it-yourself shopping,” noted Frank Riso, senior director, Motorola's Industry Solutions Group.
While the Shopping Buddy may have been too feature-rich, it did underscore the need to deliver cost savings opportunities to shoppers through an electronic device, in addition to time savings.
“Customers like value, and if you can give them personalized offers through those kinds of devices, then saving money in that way does deliver value,” said Stephen Vowles, senior vice president of marketing, Stop & Shop and Giant Food, and SN's Marketer of the Year for 2007, during an interview with SN in late December.
“When you add the ability to save money, U.S. customers are more inclined to use the device,” said Riso. European shoppers, by contrast, are content with just the self-service, time-saving element, which compensates for the lower service levels in European supermarkets, he added.
In-store devices like Easy-Shop also “help differentiate us from our competition,” Keane added. “EasyShop allows us to offer the customer an experience that simply isn't available at other local grocery retailers.”
Keane did not disclose the size of Stop & Shop's investment in EasyShop or the expected payback period. According to Riso, the list price of the EasyShop device (Motorola's MC17 unit) is $999, though retailers can earn discounts for bulk purchases. The Shopping Buddy was “several magnitudes more expensive,” said Robert Wesley, president and chief executive officer, Modiv Media.
Wesley noted that the CPG advertising delivered by the EasyShop comes from national ad budgets, not trade dollars, and that Stop & Shop receives a slice of that ad revenue, though he did not indicate how much.
EasyShop piggybacks on the existing RF wireless infrastructure in a store. It uses three or four access points, “which stores normally have,” said Wesley. By contrast, Shopping Buddy required a store to install numerous beacons and triggers. Stop & Shop monitors and supports EasyShop devices remotely.
Before a store implements EasyShop, employees are “trained on the technology and on operational best practices to ensure the customer has a good experience,” Keane said.?
One measure of the Easy-Shop's popularity was taken during a recent weekend afternoon at a Stop & Shop located on the west side of Danbury, Conn. EasyShop devices are stored in two 24-unit banks, each located at opposite sides of the store. At one bank, 16 of the 24 devices were being used by shoppers; at the other, 11 of 24 were in use.
SN interviewed shoppers about the merits of EasyShop at the Danbury Stop & Shop. All of the EasyShop users said they had previously used the Shopping Buddy. One shopper, Ann Sornatale, who was shopping with her young daughter Jaclyn, noted that the EasyShop was “always charged” — not always the case with the Shopping Buddy. Her daughter likes to scan products with EasyShop, but Sornatale said she inspects her order at the end of the trip before checking out to make sure that no individual item was scanned twice. The device makes it “easier to get in and out,” she said.
Another shopper, Jenn Wolke, said the EasyShop “saves time and lets me know how much I'm spending. It's a useful tool.” She said she will sometimes buy the items that are offered on special through the device. Overall, the device represented a reason to shop at Stop & Shop rather than elsewhere, Wolke said.
This reporter is also a former Shopping Buddy and current EasyShop user at the Danbury Stop & Shop. (See “Buddy System,” SN, July 31, 2006, for a first-person account of how the Shopping Buddy was used.) I have found the EasyShop device to be a more effective scanner than the Shopping Buddy. Whereas the Shopping Buddy would sometimes lose its battery charge and falter in the middle of a shopping trip, it appears the EasyShop is less prone to such failure. In addition, the Shopping Buddy, as a touchscreen device, was not always responsive to touch, while the EasyShop performs all functions via scanning, which is generally more reliable.
The EasyShop units are easier to select; one lights up after you scan your card. They are also easier to return, with return racks available at the checkout.
The random auditing process, used to deter theft or misuse of the device, has also improved. When my Shopping Buddy order was audited, a cashier would scan every item in the order, no matter how large. But only a small sample of items were scanned when my EasyShop order was audited. Stop & Shop declined to comment on the effectiveness of the auditing process.
It was apparent when the EasyShop was unveiled in Danbury, in December, that Stop & Shop invested more in trainers to instruct shoppers on how it works than they had with Shopping Buddy in the summer of 2006. The EasyShop trainers remained in the store for about a month — longer than the Shopping Buddy trainers.
“‘Build it and they will come’ does not work,” said Baird of Retail Systems Research. Using trainers for two weeks to a month “significantly increases initial adoption, and maintains higher rates of adoption over time.”
EasyShop is Motorola's third-generation consumer scanning device. The original was used mostly in Europe, where it has been replaced by a second-generation monochrome device that scans and displays text messages. The second-generation scanner is in about 2,000 stores, most of them in Europe, said Riso.
In the U.S., the second-generation consumer scanner is deployed at 28 of the 61 Bloom stores operated by Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C. There consumers use it primarily to scan and bag during the shopping trip.
Use of the scanners by Bloom shoppers “varies by store,” said Karen Peterson, a Food Lion spokeswoman. “The scanners are widely accepted at stores near universities,” she noted.
Peterson said shrink “has not appeared to be an issue” with scanner use.
While Stop & Shop has transitioned from a shopping cart screen to a handheld device, other retailers and technology providers are continuing to test shopping cart screens. Last year, another provider of a shopping cart system with a screen, MediaCart, Plano, Texas, ran a nine-month test at two ShopRite stores, one in Oakland, N.J., and the other in Parsippany, N.J. Both stores are part of the Wakefern Food Corp. cooperative, Edison, N.J. The screen on these carts was located at the front of the cart.
In January, MediaCart and Wakefern were joined by Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., in announcing a test of the “next-generation” MediaCart at the same two ShopRite stores, beginning in the early fall of 2008. Last year's test, the companies said in a statement, “provided insights from both the consumer and retailer perspective that were adopted in the next-generation product.”
In the next trial, Microsoft's Atlas Division will provide video ads on the MediaCart grocery cart screen. Shoppers will scan their loyalty card at the MediaCart and receive RFID-triggered ads and promotional offers based on past purchases and/or saved shopping lists uploaded from a home PC, as well as location in the store. The technology will also provide advertisers with reporting and analytics capabilities to assess performance of the ads in stores.
In addition, MediaCart shoppers will also be able to perform comparative price checks; locate products in the store; view store specials in aisles as they shop; view recipes and nutritional information; use an electronic shopping list that is presented in aisle order; total the cost of the items in their baskets before checkout; and expedite checkout using a cart-level checkout feature. Many of these features represent an upgrade from last year's model.
Another shopping cart screen is being introduced this year by Cabco Group, Auckland, New Zealand, which has U.S. offices in Schaumburg, Ill. The interactive screen will be added to Cabco's TV Kart, which is designed to carry young children and entertain them via an LCD screen within the cart that plays kids' programming. In early 2009, Cabco is also planning to unveil the Mi-Kart, which will have a shopper's screen at the handlebar but not the children's video screen.
The current model of TV Kart, without the shopper's screen, is in about 450 stores in the U.S., including some Publix, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Dominick's, Tom Thumb, H.E. Butt Grocery and Meijer outlets, said Larry Remiker, brand marketing specialist for Cabco USA. Each store has three to five TV Karts, on average.
Like MediaCart, the new TV Kart will use RF sensors to trigger ads as the shopper moves through the store. Shoppers will be able to press buttons on a menu to call up additional information such as frequently asked questions, recipes and nutritional facts. While the original carts cost the consumer $1 to use, the upgraded carts will be free.
Yet another shopping cart screen called Concierge has been developed by Toronto-based Springboard Retail Networks. According to a January report in The Canadian Press, the system is expected to roll out in the U.S. this year and later in Canada. It offers such features as the weekly flier, a product locator, recipes that can be emailed home and self-scanning.