Hot or Not: High Tech Supermarket Innovations

Posted by Josette Dunn on 21st January 2011

Welcome to the supermarkets of the future: self service checkouts, ‘Tap N Go’ card readers, new smartphone barcode scanning apps and trolleys complete with computers and GPS tracking.  They promise speed, convenience and even more information for customers and retailers. But just how useful are they?

Consumer group CHOICE has reviewed these new innovations to see if they live up to the hype, by truly benefiting consumers and retailers.

Self service checkouts allow consumers to scan, bag and pay for items unassisted. Since 2003, Coles has installed them in 90 stores across Australia, with plans to roll them out to a third more within the next two years.

This service offers convenience and efficiency for customers buying a small number of items. Despite this, feedback received by CHOICE shows people are frequently frustrated with bagging and weighing technology, lack of attention shown by customer service assistants and difficulties faced when trying to look up items on touch screens.

“Self service checkouts may be useful when you have a few items but these sorts of hurdles can be infuriating, especially when you’ve got a full trolley.” says CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just.

‘Tap N Go’ card readers allow shoppers to tap their credit or debit card on a card reading device without having to sign or enter a PIN for transactions under $100. This technology is already in use in some petrol stations, chemists, takeaway outlets, convenience stores, Bunnings and Dymocks stores.

The technology makes transactions faster and can potentially lessen queuing. It may also help reduce incidents of consumers leaving cards behind as the card never leaves their hand. However, there are some concerns about security as no identification is required when used.

“There are undeniable benefits to these cards, tech heads will love them, but there are others who have concerns about how they make spending easier,” says Ms Just.

Smartphone barcode scanning apps allow consumers to scan product barcodes and check for price comparisons. The apps provide links to extra product information and/or price comparisons. They can also alert consumers to products containing certain allergens. The apps are currently available in Japan, the UK and the US.

These apps have real potential to take the legwork out of shopping, provided they do not replace on-pack product information or disadvantage shoppers who don’t own smartphones.

“Being able to compare prices on products at shops, in your neighborhood and online, with a press of a button, will revolutionise shopping – these apps have been a big hit overseas and are already making inroads into Australia.” says Ms Just.

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VIP Trolleys feature a computer, video screen and GPS navigation. The trolleys automatically scan and calculate the total cost of items as they’re placed in the basket. It also alerts shoppers to specials. Consumers can upload shopping lists and recipes and the trolley will then direct them to the store location of the listed items. They are currently being trialled in some IGA stores in Melbourne and Canberra.

The running totals and GPS navigation are useful devices for saving on bills and reducing time spent in store. However, the trolleys also provide additional avenues for companies to collect consumer data and increase direct point-of-sale advertising.

“These high-tech trolleys can help people keep to a shopping budget, but they also have the potential to turn an everyday activity like supermarket shopping into a retail laboratory,” says Ms Just.