Consumers expecting fridges to prepare shopping lists and arrange deliveries by 2015

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 24th July 2008

A multi-country study into the future of retailing reveals technology’s potential impact on how consumers shop and how retailers engage their customers.

The new research suggests that, among Canadian Internet users who have primary responsibility in their household for shopping, more than half believe that networked refrigerators and online devices will be available to prepare shopping lists and order goods that require replenishing.

TNS’ “New Future In Store” report reveals that a majority of online consumers in every country surveyed, except Japan, believe that networked shopping will be available by 2015. Sophisticated refrigerators and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology will be able to monitor the products household members use, create shopping lists and even communicate with other networked devices to arrange deliveries.

But are consumers ready to embrace automated shopping? According to the report, the jury is still out. While 55 per cent of Canadian Internet users predict networked devices will be used widely, just 29 per cent see this as having high appeal for them. And despite the promise of being able to give up the perfunctory weekly trip to the supermarket, most consumers do not see networked fridges as a practical solution, as just 17 per cent say they would be likely to use them.

“The technology to automate shopping to the degree we described to our survey participants is available right now, and in time we will see this in the average household,” said Barry Lemmon, global head of TNS Retail & Shopper Insights. “The networked fridge is the most obvious kind of appliance that will facilitate automated shopping. But retailers will need to help their customers understand the benefits of shopping this way – as is evident from the current unwillingness that our study revealed regarding using this kind of capability.”

The survey asked more than 4,600 primary household shoppers online in eight countries – Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States – to comment on 12 innovations, including intelligent shopping carts, interactive dressing rooms, and biometric payment systems.

The most highly regarded of the 12 innovations in the TNS survey is the use of a biometric fingerprint that links to a shopper’s bank account or credit card to make payment. By comparison, the potential presented by automated shopping falls into sixth place. Globally, the appeal of networked shopping is highest in China (52%) and Spain (45%) and lowest in Japan (19%) and the U.K. (25%).

Siemon Scamell-Katz, founder of shopper strategy consultancy TNS Magasin, believes there may be a number of product failures as consumers begin to be exposed to such technology. “There is no doubt that networked shopping is coming, especially as homes become more digital. Consumers can expect to shop location-free via wireless broadband and wireless devices,” he advised. “Networked appliances, human-machine interaction and device-to-device communication will help us replenish our routine food, beverage and household items automatically. As this becomes more prevalent, it will have an impact on the numbers of new products coming to market. We will see a higher failure rate for new products and extensive range rationalization in those categories where consumers will no longer have much involvement in what they buy.”

“Innovation may well come from new category invention rather than minor product development in established categories. This means that product innovation processes could look very, very different – with a consequent impact on what eventually ends up on the store shelves,” Mr Scamell-Katz observed.

Consumers have already begun embracing self-checkouts and are warming to online shopping, but networked shopping may be a step too far for the time being.