FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Which Grocery Stores are Going High-Tech?

Is your local grocer jumping on the latest technology, or is it a laggard? Business 2.0 has a quick overview of several cutting-edge grocery stores and the technology they're rolling out.

Metro Future Stores in Germany are rolling out self-service kiosks (already used in deli sections of many ShopRites); "smart shelves" that read RFID-tagged products, locate misplaced items and send real-time alerts when items need restocking; and real-time advertising via plasma screens. Certain Albertsons stores (a.k.a. Acme Markets in the Midatlantic region) are experimenting with handheld scanners that customers can use to total up orders and transmit to a self-checkout register, as well as with fingerprint payment systems.

Grocery stores are also rethinking the shopping process as well. Many stores now feature "express areas" where shoppers can grab one or two items (a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, or a pre-made sandwich) and pay via self-service checkout. Of course, as anyone familar with grocery stores knows, bad process is the real source of problems. Self-service checkouts generally work poorly when shoppers buy more than a few items, and nothing's more aggravating than a busy shopping day when only one or two checkout lanes are open.

Grocery stores tend to be conservative when it comes to technology, but once a good technical solution emerges (one that offers value to both grocer and shopper), it catches on like wildfire. It seems today as if grocers have been accepting debit cards forever, but we have to remind ourselves what a recent innovation that was. Now, shoppers can avoid the embarassment of being caught short of cash at checkout, and grocers don't lose sales.