FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Monday, February 21, 2005

Will "Smart Carts" Lead to Smarter Shopping?

Imagine a shopping cart -- an actual, not a virtual one -- that can memorize your grocery list, send orders to the pharmacy and the deli, and alert you to other offers. If this appeals to you, then you might be in luck.

Fujitsu is piloting a new shopping cart technology called the U-Scan Shopper, which allows shoppers to download their shopping lists from their Bluetooth-enabled PDAs to the "smart cart." The carts will cost about $1,200 each.

The concept has promise, but anyone familiar with grocery stores can already spot the downsides. Stolen carts are a perennial problem for retailers, who aren't going to appreciate losing $1,200 every time a U-Scan disappears. Secondly, there's usability. From the description, one must be fairly tech savvy to make use of the U-Scans. Grandma simply won't be bothered. And since the system relies on Bluetooth-enabled PDAs, only stores in relatively affluent communities will be interested.

Third, my sense is that the U-Scan is trying to latch on to an existing process (shopping) rather than redesigning the process altogether. As a result, it only adds a layer ot complexity to the process. Perhaps something like U-Scan will make more sense once more grocery items are tagged with RFID tags. Or, skip the U-Scan altogether and make the grocer's system work with shoppers' PDAs. Stores could give away free software that would allow shoppers to maintain their grocery lists; it will be cheaper for the stores and just as easy for the customers. And store clerks won't have to fish $1,200 shopping carts out of drainage ditches.

Sources: eWeek, Smart Mobs