Shopping Goes High-Tech

Wal-Mart’s aggressive efforts to implement RFID makes the news frequently, and you’ve probably noticed an increase in the number of stores offering self-checkout (Home Depot, Rainbow Foods, K-mart, among others). A number of other stores are experimenting other technologies poised to changed the shopping experience.

The Salisbury Post has an excellent article on Bloom, the new store concept from Food Lion.

Consider the technological changes, such as photo printing kiosks, complete with Bluetooth wireless capabilities, and personal scanners that shoppers can use to keep a running tally of what you’re buying.

Other information areas allow you to do things like scan in a cut of meat or piece of seafood and have a variety of recipes pop up that you can print out and take with you.

Their focus is on making grocery shopping better:

“We want people to feel like they’ve had a good experience.” – Robert Canipe, VP Business Stragety

“…take the pain points out of shopping” – Suzy McIntosh-Hinson, Bloom’s IT Design Lead.

A number of the experimental technologies at Bloom can also be found at the Metro Future Store in Rheinberg, Germany.

The last line in the article…

“There will always be certain areas where customers will not accept a high-technology store”.

…leads me to Stores.org’s May 5 cover story, Prada’s Pratfall. The article describes Prada’s retail technology experimentation gone horribly wrong at their very visible Manhanttan flagship store.

RFID, interactive touch screens, liquid crystal changing room doors all back-firing when they’re functional at all.

Made from liquid crystal panels that darken for privacy, the doors were designed to open and close using a foot pedal and shift from clear to opaque with another. But it turns out that some Prada devotees missed the second pedal, revealing more than intended. Others stomped on the pedals in a futile attempt to open doors that frequently jam.

Paula Rosenblum, Director of Retail Research for the Aberdeen Group declares:

“In an attempt to be as chic about technology as they are about heels and handbags, they misjudged the customer’s acceptance as well as the sales associates’ willingness to embrace it.”?

This is an excellent counter to Mr. Canipe’s quote about improving the customer experience. Prada seemed more focused with looking cool than using technology to deepen the customer relationship. Did Prada conduct the depth of customer research described in the grocery store articles? Doubtful. Otherwise they would have realized that customers and sales associates prefer less technology and better service.

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