David O’Neill, a senior citizen who frequents his local Stop & Shop supermarket in Quincy, Mass., hasn’t talked to a checkout cashier in months. And he’s delighted.
“The biggest pain in the neck is the lines at the registers,” O’Neill says.
Consumers are also part of a pilot project using self-service systems enabled by wireless technology to help locate goods and scan purchased items. Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., a division of Dutch retail giant Royal Ahold, began testing the applications 10 months ago in three stores south of Boston. The company, which declined to cite the amount of its investment in the pilot, is expected to decide soon whether to expand the project.
In the stores, the systems, developed by software vendor Cuesol, are straightforward. Customers select a portable computer, called Shopping Buddy, from a set of recharging racks near the shopping-cart corral and place it in a cart-mounted holder. After they use a wand to scan their Stop & Shop loyalty card (required to use the system), Shopping Buddy uses a Wi-Fi network, infrared technology and Bluetooth transmissions to help shoppers locate items, find out about goods on sale and place deli orders from anywhere in the store. The company uses the loyalty card to record each shopper’s purchases.
The Shopping Buddy user interface is a flat-panel display, about the size of this magazine page, with color images of specific goods. Using a keypad, shoppers type the name of an item, and the system tells them where it’s located and how to get there.
The scanning wand lets customers log their purchases while shopping, reducing the checkout process to a data transfer from Shopping Buddy to one of the store’s self-service checkouts. Stop & Shop offers a $5 total purchase discount to first-time users, and exclusive on-sale items appear on the Shopping Buddy screen display during a trip through the store.
While saving money attracts consumers, the user interface also determines if consumers will embrace the technology, says Mark Lowenstein, an analyst at Mobile Ecosystem. “People want this technology to cut back on the time they spend shopping,” he says.
For Nina Tobin, another recent shopper in the Quincy store, the user interface wasn’t a problem as she used Shopping Buddy to review her purchases. “I forgot what cereal my husband wanted,” she says. “The computer can’t help me with that, though.”