Future Retailing: High Tech Or High Touch?

Apr 19, 2004
George Anderson

By George Anderson

The German retailing powerhouse, Metro, calls its test laboratory Future Store. But, as the success of that store and others employing technology to improve the shopping experience has become documented in bottom line performance this much is clear: If the future isn’t here, it is pretty darned close.

Self-checkouts are becoming commonplace in grocery stores and hand-held scanning systems are gaining traction in chains including Albertsons and Stop & Shop.

While not all consumers are sold on checking themselves out of the grocery store, using Speedpass to purchase gas or being prompted to stock-up on an item by a Shopping Buddy on their cart as they make their way down the cereal aisle, many are.

Melanie Michelangelo, a teenager who goes shopping for groceries with her mother, told the Christian Science Monitor, “We come here just for the Shopping Buddy. We call him Buddy.”

Melanie’s mom, Morena, a self-described “computer dummy” agreed.

There’s little argument that retail will be only increasing the use of such technologies, but some think management should at least be asking the question whether this is the best way to spend dollars improving the shopping experience for consumers.

George Whalin, president and chief executive of Retail Management Consultants and a member of the RetailWire BrainTrust expressed reservations when he spoke with the Christian Science Monitor.

Mr. Whalin said self-checkout and hand-held scanner shopping systems were primarily focused on reducing labor costs and supermarkets would be better off focusing on creating a more pleasurable shopping environment with wider aisles, better lighting, etc.

“There’s some real question about pushing technologies on the consumer that the consumer isn’t demanding,” he said. “Has the customer asked for more control? I don’t think so.”

Moderator’s Comment: Are retailers pushing consumers into using technology where there is no clear demand? Which,
if any, of the currently available technologies do you believe holds the greatest promise for improving the shopping experience?

The technology is great but it’s the icing, not the cake.

We all know that few chains inspire the enthusiasm, dare we say, loyalty of its shoppers than Trader Joe’s. Locally, it has only been about two-years since
the chain switched over to using scanners at the checkout. We sincerely doubt you’ll ever come across a shopper who will say they go to the Trader Joe’s in Westfield, NJ because
the store scans at the checkout.
Anderson – Moderator

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