CHOICE had a look at what is in development at the moment to gain an insight into what the future of shopping might look like. Are trolleys that talk to you and smartphone barcode scanning technologies coming to a supermarket near you?
What are they?
The VIP Trolley – a trolley that knows what you want and directs you around the supermarket – is currently being trialled in some IGA stores in the ACT and VIC. Created by MediaCart and being introduced into Australia by VIP Retail, the trolley is rigged with a computer, screen and GPS navigation. It scans items as you put them in the basket, tallies the total cost and directs you through the supermarket aisles to your items of choice – great news if you often find yourself lost or are shopping to a budget.
The trolley can also load shopping lists and recipes and direct you to the items and ingredients. Want to know what’s on special? The trolley will trigger an appropriate advertisement on the screen as you enter an aisle, such as one for milk as you move into the dairy section. Ads will also appear on-screen depending on your in-store behaviour and purchase history, creating extremely targeted marketing.
The good and the bad
While all the functions of the VIP Trolley could potentially be quite useful, experts have some concerns. Dr. Paul Harrison, Senior Lecturer in Consumer Behaviour and Marketing at Deakin University, argues the GPS tracking and the targeted advertising will, “Exploit your psychological state at the supermarket, while collecting data about your shopping behaviour”. Harrison believes supermarkets will be used, “As a concept testing ‘retail laboratory’, with the data from your shopping activities being used to evaluate advertising effectiveness”. He also suggests that the targeted advertising will play on the human mind’s openness to suggestion when undertaking a low-involvement activity such as grocery shopping. “This technology has been trialled in the US, and has been very successful in boosting sales in particular brands.”
Exploitation aside, the technology would no doubt be expensive to incorporate into the supermarket – so would it come at a cost to the consumer? According to MediaCart, the US parent company, the cost of the technology is absorbed through the trolley’s on-screen advertising revenue – so in theory it won’t affect your hip pocket.
When will we see them?
VIP Retail are in discussions with Coles and Woolworths, according to general manager Nathan Dunn – but both companies are awaiting the end of the trial to make a decision. “It’s true that we have had conversations with the company, but have made no commitments to have these trolleys at this time,” says Alecia Batten, Coles’ coordinator of corporate affairs. The trial should be completed early this year.
CHOICE believes that adding value to the shopping experience through tracking running totals and knowing exactly what is in each aisle is of benefit to consumers. However, we’re concerned about the use of the data collected through the trolley GPS. Is it an example of better service for the consumer, or just another way big business can track what you buy for their own gain?
Smartphone barcode scanning
What is it?
The potential for smartphones seems endless as more and more applications (apps) come online to help us organise our lives, entertain or provide information. Mobile barcode scanning technology has given rise to apps that allow you to scan barcodes to create shopping lists, get price comparisons and even check in to domestic airports. Smartphone barcode scanning has really taken off overseas, especially in the USA, UK and Japan. According to a new consumer adoption study from barcode technology provider, Scanbuy, use of their barcode-scanning apps grew over 700% between January and July last year. The most popular use of the technology is for price comparisons, whereby you scan the barcode of a product and a list is generated of all comparable prices both in your local area stores and online.
As well as providing price comparisons, smartphone barcode scanning can also connect you to extra product information and tell you whether it contains certain allergens. There’s even speculation you’ll be able to use the technology to check whether a supermarket food contains dangerous levels of bacteria. (For this to work, the food packaging would have to be injected with a dye that allows
you to see bacteria through your phone’s camera.)
The good and the bad
It’s hard to know at this stage what the good and bad points of smartphone barcode scanning may be. It’s very much in its infancy in Australia and many of the apps are overseas-based and don’t have Australian products in their databases. The only app that currently lists a substantial number of Australian products is Scan2List, which allows you to scan barcodes to create and share shopping lists. The downside of the app is that you have to create an account to be able to use it – a requirement that deterred us from trialling it.
When will we see it?
You can use the Scan2List app right now, but we’re yet to see a price comparison app tailored to the Australian market. Considering the increasing use of smartphones and how much the barcode scanning apps are taking off overseas, it’s a technology that’s likely to gain momentum here.
This technology has great potential for consumers – specifically for price comparisons and obtaining extra product and sanitary information – provided it doesn’t completely supplant on-pack information and disadvantage shoppers without a smartphone. Overall, this could take the legwork out of shopping, giving you up-to-date information at your fingertips.