Monday, October 22, 2007

High-tech carts inform shoppers of unhealthy choices

ABC News reports that shoppers London may soon have access to trolleys (that's shopping carts for us Yanks) that can warn us when we are buying too much unhealthy food at the supermarket. According to the article, "the high-tech model will be fitted with a computer screen and barcode scanner. It will read each product's individual code to give customers information about calories, nutrition, ethical sourcing and the environment."

This is definitely an interesting concept, though it seems there may be more drawbacks than benefits. There are thousands of products in any supermarket that are not healthy (in fact I wouldn't be surprised if the unhealthy ones outnumber the healthy ones). So how will the folks at Frito Lay, Coca-Cola, etc. feel about a machine attached to a cart that essentially tells shoppers not to buy their product? I think it's safe to say that they won't be making any contributions to EDS, the U.S. based company responsible for the technology any time soon (unless said contributions would help to reclassify what things are "healthy.") I also wouldn't be surprised to see some vendors lash out at supermarkets using the tech, since it will essentially be negating all of their product advertising and in-store promotions.

In the end, this kind of technology is probably better suited to high-end markets and specialized health food stores where people are making the conscious decision to eat an entirely healthy diet, and will be interested enough in what they're buying to stop and read the text on the screen for a minute or two. In such places it would be easy to tout the technology as a new service to provide even more information to consumers facing an increasing number of choices (especially in said high-end places where you're buying "lifestyle" as much as anything else). In mainstream supermarkets, though, I think it can only hurt business as a whole, and worse, it could pit the retailers against some of their biggest vendors.

Tags: shopping cart, smart cart, retail marketing

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