Last weekend, I quickly tested out a high-tech supermarket trolley that lets you scan items as you go and find items anywhere in the store. It was a fun experience, but is it the future of shopping?
I first read about the infra-red and tablet-equipped trolleys at the Supa IGA store in Carindale, Brisbane on Gizmodo back in January. Over the weekend, I got the chance to visit the store and try it out for myself. As a visitor to Brisbane, I wasn't in a position to do a full-scale family shop, but it was fun to play around with the trolley a little.
The enhanced trolleys (which are stored separately at the entrance of the store, but don't require a security deposit or any other complications) feature two main elements: a combined scanner and keypad built into the handle, and a full-colour tablet displaying information at the front end of the trolley. If you're a member of the store loyalty program, you can sign in for customised content, but I didn't get that option.
As you move around the shop, an infra-red scanning unit identifies which aisle you are in and tells you the main products in that aisle. You can also search for specific items and get directed to the appropriate location. Typing is slightly fiddly, since you only have a numeric keypad, but I didn't find it too burdensome, and I can understand that the keypad is a more robust input solution than a touchscreen.
Once you've found something you want to buy, you can scan it through the reader and have the price automatically added to your shopping list. No nasty surprises when you hit the checkout. You can also browse a list of in-store recipes and serving suggestions, though there weren't a lot on offer when I checked it out.
So it worked without me managing to break it (no mean feat), but will it take off? The supermarket was far from crowded when I visited, but I did seem to be the only person who had opted to use the trolley. For a first-time user, being able to find obscure items was helpful, but if this was your local, I imagine you'd end up using that feature relatively infrequently after you'd learned the main store layout. Equally, tracking your total as you go is useful, but it strikes me that few of the supermarket shoppers I see in my day-to-day life seem especially concerned about what they're spending on a supermarket visit. The best tactics for saving money often aren't deployed.
More to the point: you could get virtually all the same features via a smartphone app (though the aisle location might be a tad iffy). That wouldn't require brand new trollies (indeed, people just buying a handful of items could use it). We might be a way off from that being a regular feature of supermarket shopping, but it feels more like the future to me than gussying up the trolleys. What do you think?
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