October 10, 2003

The Shopping Buddy

Wireless technology makes food shopping easier
Stop & Shop and CueSol, a Massachusetts-based technology consultant, have teamed up to create a "shopping buddy," a cart-based wireless shopping aide that aims to speed and simplify the food-shopping experience. Available in three Stop & Shops in suburban Boston, the system links the retailer's loyalty card and the shopping history it collects to a computer touch screen that performs several functions, including keeping a running total, identifying sales items and suggesting food combinations.

Story Link

The Shopping Buddy-
By David Pinto

QUINCY, Mass. A groundbreaking, technology-powered food-shopping revolution is gathering momentum in the suburbs of Boston, an advance, powered by a cart-based wireless shopping aide, that is irrevocably transforming the supermarket experience. The breakthrough is being driven by Stop & Shop Cos. and its partner, CueSol, a Quincybased technology consultant.

The revolution turns on the use of a wireless, web-enabled shopping buddy to speed and simplify the food-shopping experience. As now practiced in three Stop & Shop supermarkets in suburban Boston, including the most-recent addition in the retailers Quincy store, it dwarfs anything that has preceded it including the much-touted future store unveiled last summer in Germany by retailer Metro AG.

The Stop & Shop shopping buddy relies on wireless technology to walk and talk the customer through the shopping experience. More specifically, it utilizes the retailers loyalty card and the shopping history it collects, linking the card and its personal shopper history to an 8-inch by 11-inch tablet that houses an 8.5-inch computer touch screen. At the Quincy store the shopper enables the system by retrieving a tablet from a dispensing rack at either of the stores two entrances, setting it into a specially designed handle on her shopping cart and activating it by scanning her loyalty card across the units bar code reader.

Once enabled, the touch-screen does indeed function as a shopping buddy. The wireless browser and ceiling-embedded sensors enable the tablet to send and receive data that speeds and simplifies the shopping experience. Some examples:

As the customer begins to shop, she is alerted as to which items in the retailers weekly circular she has previously purchased and might want to buy again while they are on sale. She also is informed of products that, though not on sale, are being offered to her at a special price because her shopping profile indicates a preference for these items. Finally, as shopper and cart wend their way through the store, sale merchandise and items of possible interest (based on the shoppers purchasing profile) in the aisles currently being shopped are highlighted on the computer screen. As the customer fills the shopping bags in her cart and scans the items the running total is recorded on the computer, as well as the amount saved by buying sales items. Perhaps most revolutionary, the customer does not need to unload the cart or empty her shopping bags at the conclusion of the shopping trip. Because the products have been scanned as they were selected, the shopper need only pay the amount recorded on the computer screen, which she is encouraged to do electronically, at a self-checkout register. As she does, her shopping history is updated. Should the customer want to purchase products from the service deli during her shopping trip, she can do so without stopping by the often-crowded deli. Rather, she can order the items directly from the computer screen, which not only instructs her on the selection of products (and reminds her which items she purchased on her last trip, personally or electronically, to the deli counter) but also helps her determine quantities and, in the case of deli meats, the thickness of the slices. As the customer completes her deli order, the computer assigns the order a number. When the order is ready for pickup, the computer screen notifies her by order number. If the customer needs to locate a product, she has only to type in the products name. The computer announces the aisle location, then reminds her when she reaches that aisle.

What weve tried to do is simplify and personalize the shopping experience and make it fun, says Mike Grimes, vice president of sales and marketing for CueSol. We believe weve succeeded.

The system has certainly succeeded in simplifying and personalizing the shopping experience, primarily by customizing the experience to the shoppers purchasing history. In that way, it continuously reminds the customer of the products she might need and those which she has possibly forgotten, based on her past purchases.

It also is a master at marketing and suggestive selling, reminding the customer, for example, that the eggs she has just purchased might go well with the ham currently on sale. Equally impressive, it condenses for the customer the 8- or 16-page weekly circular, highlighting for each electronic shopper only those products that shopper is known to have previously purchased and displaying them on the computer screen (along with items specially selected for her) as the customer activates the tablet.

The hurdles thus far uncovered in the three-store test are those common to any new technology. Foremost among them is getting the customer to use the tablet.

Some 20% of the customers at the Quincy store use the system, points out Stop & Shop technical support staffer Maryann Sclafani. What weve found is that the first time a customer uses it shes confused, the second time shes comfortable and by the third time shes ready to teach other shoppers how to use it.

To help, Stop & Shop has redshirted employees circulating throughout the store ready to offer assistance.

Another potential drawback is the often-compelling nature of the constantly changing body of information and purchase inducements to which the shopper is exposed, a flood of data capable of easily distracting the customer from her primary job of doing the shopping she entered the store to do.

Then too, the system only makes sense when used in conjunction with the retailers loyalty card, though Sclafani notes that 90% of the stores customers already possess a loyalty card. Most customers carry loyalty cards from all the supermarkets in the area, she explains. One objective of this system is to encourage the loyalty-card shopper who uses Stop & Shop as a secondary supermarket to begin using us as her primary supermarket.

The retailer plans to test the system in the three Boston-area stores on into next year before determining whether and when to roll it out to the entire chain.

Meanwhile, it is by far the closest that supermarket retailing has come to simplifying the always-tedious and sometimesdaunting food-shopping experience, and turning a chore into an exercise closely resembling a pleasant experience.

Posted by Craig at October 10, 2003 06:44 PM