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Pushing into Tomorrow


The humble, ubiquitous shopping cart is something most shoppers — and many retailers — take for granted, yet while these wheeled enablers scoot through supermarket aisles, there are creative forces at work on the next generation, the so-called “shopping cart of the future.”

In addition to already established shopping cart manufacturers, sources as disparate as an eighth-grade student and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are diligently conceptualizing their own versions of these supermarket mainstays.

Last July, the USDA released an 80-page report aimed at the 42 million Americans receiving SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps) in an effort to “nudge” them into healthier eating. Among the report’s suggestions were talking shopping carts, called “MyCarts,” which would be color-coded, physically divided by different food groups, and outfitted with a system that detects when the cart reaches its healthy “threshold,” congratulates the customer and notifies them that they qualify for rewards like movie tickets or discounts.

The USDA estimates that the cost would be $30,000 per store for MyCarts. If that holds true, a retailer like Cincinnati-based Kroger, with 2,625 locations at most recent count, would need to spend nearly $79 million to outfit its stores with MyCarts.

Shopping or Stalking?

The most futuristic, “Jetsons”-like shopping cart of the future is the Z-Cart, designed by Mete Mordag at his Mordag Design studio, in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Z-Cart can carry both the shopper and groceries. It has storage space and a rechargeable scooter that can be optionally integrated into the main body. The scooter features stopping lights, brakes, a small digital display to show battery level, and an accelerator fitted into the handlebars. The user is carried in a standing position, and the cart’s main body can hold removable baskets and bags in different sizes, and can be expanded as needed.

At the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Control Robotics and Machine Learning Laboratory, cousins Ohad Rusnak and Omri Elmalech have come up with what they’ve termed an “autonomous shopping cart,” which others have deemed “creepy” because its 3D camera and controls actually let the cart follow the shopper around the store.

In St. Petersburg, Russia, CartPay Co. has developed a cart that allows customers to pay for the goods as they go into the basket. The buyer scans the barcodes and puts the products in the cart. Payment can be made at either the cashier or at self-checkout without shifting and rescanning.

According to CartPay CEO Evgeny Evnukov, the mobile application, now being tested, allows users to maintain shopping lists and check on expiration dates and the calories in products, and it doesn’t require additional labeling.

In the U.S., Rogers, Ark.-based Mart Cart has gone electric with its entry in the cart derby. “Repeated requests from our customers for a larger, more robust electric shopping cart led us to design the Ultima to better serve their need for a more comfortable and stable electric cart,” explains Gavan Duffy, Mart Cart’s SVP of sales and marketing, of the wider 24-inch seat and high capacity cart.

Duffy expects that the electric shopping cart of the future will be able to communicate more effectively with its passenger and the store about its condition and state of readiness, while also conveying useful information for an enhanced shopping experience. “We will continue to evaluate new and existing technologies to assess their viability in the Mart Cart,” he says.

Beyond the Cart

South Korean tech giant SK Telecom has gone its competitors one better by producing an advanced shopping system called “Smart Shopper,” a platform that allows customers to shop without a shopping cart, according to Public Relations Manager Cindy Hyungsung Kang.

“The Smart Shopper platform is one of SK Telecom’s most recent innovations, introduced earlier this year at Mobile World Congress 2015,” she says. “We plan to commercialize the platform later this year, starting with large retail chains in Korea.”

According to Kang, a customer picks up a designated portable scanning device to read barcodes on items, adding them to a virtual shopping cart. Then, at the order viewer terminal (a touchscreen device installed in several spots within the store), the customer can check and edit items in the shopping carts by placing the scanning device on a dongle (a piece of hardware that attaches to a computer and allows a piece of secured software to run). Finally, the customer walks up to the self-checkout counter and touches the device to confirm the selected items, get the total amount owed and make a payment. The purchased products are then home-delivered at a convenient time.

The platform employs near-field communication (NFC) technology to access customer purchasing data such as product information and special offers on devices located within the store and through customers’ smartphone applications, according to Kang. In addition, a variety of in-store promotions are made possible through BLE (Bluetooth low-energy) technology and beacons.

“For the retailer,” notes Kang, “Smart Shopper will not only enable them to reduce the size of their stores, but also relieve them from holding large stocks in stores, which equates to improved efficiency and bottom lines. In the future, for low-involvement consumable products, we expect virtual stores only showcasing sample products to replace physical retail stores.”

Back in 2004, IBM introduced what it called a personal shopping assistant, the Shopping Buddy, which has a web-style screen with a variety of display options such as sales items or a list of products bought most frequently. A location-tracking system monitored through ceiling-monitored beacons enables the retailer to pinpoint shoppers’ locations and deliver relevant real-time information as they move through the store.

“While the Shopping Buddy doesn’t exist as it did when we originally announced it,” says Bill Gillespie, grocery lead for IBM Global Business Services, in Armonk, NY, “it has evolved into solutions with a focus on helping our clients create personalized, individual shopping experiences for customers using cloud, analytics, mobile and social technologies.”

Continues Gillespie, “Thinking of the future of shopping carts, when it comes to technology, it’s really more about the grocery store of the future, which is completely connected 24/7 to the customer via technology that simplifies and personalizes the shopping trip for each individual customer.”

He asserts that, for a physical store, it’s not necessarily about the store itself, but how a retailer brings together the entire shopping experience for a consumer through mobile technologies, with a main focus on creating personalization.

That seems to be the thrust of most shopping carts of the future, but only time will tell.

“Thinking of the future of shopping carts, when it comes to technology, it’s really more about the grocery store of the future, which is completely connected 24/7 to the customer.”
—Bill Gillespie, IBM Global Business services

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