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Saturday, September 04, 2004

Electronics emporium or a traditional grocery store -Retailers turning towards technology in a big way via Bweek

With e-commerce gaining steadily, bricks-and-mortar outfits are embracing new technologies to keep shoppers happy -- and spending. In a typical grocery store,customers bustle about brandishing handheld scanners. Information kiosks dish out maps on how to find any item, such as that lattice pie crust hiding between aisles 7 and 8. And near the pharmacy, a high-tech blood-pressure monitor takes shoppers' readings and keeps the data for a year.Technologies assembled like this could become commonplace within two years as retailers prepare for a makeover as dramatic as any on the Mix It Up home-design TV show. Gone will be today's cashier stations, price tags, paper sales signs, pharmacy waits, and deli lines. Hold on to your cart, because your shopping experience might soon have little resemblance to anything you experience today.With consumers growing more accustomed to the quick convenience of shopping on the Internet, bricks-and-mortar retailers are having to hustle like never before. They increasingly find that new technologies are often the only way to keep costs down while offering customers a better shopping experience. Buyers appreciate kiosks that can suggest the perfect recipe to go with white wine. And a self-checkout that halves the time spent waiting in line can be a big draw.Add changing demographics, and the time is ripe for shopping to get a tech infusion. As the population ages, buyers look for technologies that offset their declining capabilities. Baby boomers, for example, like gadgets that make up for their deteriorating eyesight -- such as the hand-held scanner Food Lion is testing out that displays an item's price and description in larger type. "A lot of the high technology is really addressing some biological problems that our society is having.Early results indicate the payoff can be sizable. New gizmos and software can speed up sales growth from about 5% today to 7% to 8%.This type of technology has one drawback, however, which could slow its adoption. To make shopping more convenient, "the retailer is going to know you -- your size, your brand preferences -- better than you know yourself," predicts Cohen. That means buying habits, preferences, and personal data will be collected by retailers, potentially sparking privacy concerns. Already, some customers avoid preferred-shopper, or loyalty, cards and make purchases with cash only. As stores get more high-tech, retailers will need to persuade shoppers that they won't sell or misuse their data.If retailers can ease concerns, the store of the future will unfold. .Gizmos like shopping buddy is the size of a large purse that attaches to a shopping cart's handlebar. It sports a flat screen that can scan a customer's preferred-shopper card to reveal a list of past purchases. A shopper can then use the data to compile fresh grocery lists, and the Buddy will direct them to the aisles where the items can be found. Research shows that most customers leave a grocery store still having something they wanted to buy but couldn't find. IBM Research has developed a special scale allowing shoppers to weigh their own produce and get a price printout, so they can move through checkout faster.Another intersting article tracking progress in RFID deployments -Inching Toward the RFID Revolution.The promise of smart tags is progressing slowly but somewhat surely as the industry grapples with a host of remaining roadblocks.Retail technology is about to take a giant leap. And it promises to be a profound -- and profitable -- one for both retailers and consumers.
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