How technology will fill your shopping basket


Technology will fill your shopping basket

YOU HAVE just finished off the last of the corn flakes, your other half is clearing up the breakfast things and about to throw away the empty box. Hang on a minute.

You grab your new scanning device and zap the box before it hits the bin. The scanner is synced with your online supermarket account, so corn flakes are instantly added to your shopping list. The milk, eggs and flour are about to run out too, so you scan them for good measure.

Will this type of gizmo make your life easier, more fun even? Supermarket chain Waitrose thinks it will. It’s in the latter stages of trialing its “hiku” home scanner and plans to roll it out within the year.

“It’s basically a fridge magnet with a scanner on it. I like to think of it as taking online shopping off the screen and into the kitchen,” says Tom Fuller, Waitrose’s head of technology innovation. And it has voice recognition, so you can tell it what to add to the list.

Of course, this isn’t just about making shopping more fun. Across our high streets, from supermarkets to fashion stores, Britain’s retailers are tripping over themselves to digitise and personalise our shopping experience. The aim is to inspire brand loyalty and drive up sales at the same time.

“New technology initiatives are about trying to create loyalty, and about trying to push the message that supermarkets have a hi-tech, progressive aspect to their brand,” says Richard Cope, a retail trends analyst at Mintel.

In some small format Tesco stores, for example, they have begun installing “endless aisles” – huge touchscreen displays that make their entire online selection available for purchase.

And just as pop-up ads target our specific likes online, special sensors, called iBeacons, will soon do the same in stores as well. As you walk around the supermarket, ads are pushed to your mobile phone, prompting you to pick up that chocolate sponge you bought the week before or how about some half-price cream to go with those strawberries? Waitrose says it hopes to roll out the technology within the year.

“With iBeacons there will no longer be any division between bricks and mortar and online worlds. They’ll be coexisting,” Cope says.

Fashion retailers see hi-tech as the future too. The Burberry store on London’s Regent Street uses digital chips in jackets and handbags that convert so-called magic mirrors into video screens, displaying digital information about the products you’re trying on.

The next generation of these mirrors will let you see yourself in different colour combinations of the same outfit, or wearing different handbags, earrings or makeup. And you will be able to share the images with friends on social media in real time. There is even talk of mirrors that can point out your beauty defects (using built-in high definition cameras) and advise you on which products you should buy to fix them.

Clinique concessions in department stores already make use of technology, partly to help customers through the bewildering array of products but, says Ian Humphris, managing director of the marketing agency Life, mostly because makeup consultants can often be pushy and intimidating.

“So they’ve installed devices that take shoppers through a series of skincare diagnosis questions and print a prescription so they know exactly what regime of products to select,” he says.

Humphris says there’s a lot of “fluff and unnecessary technology” going into retail environments. Much of it is hidden away, with staff not trained and shoppers not given clear direction on how to use it.

“But, some stores are getting it right,” he says. He points to Audi City, McQ, Nespresso and Burberry as examples of technology being used to bring high-end, luxury items to life that people wouldn’t normally consider buying.

“People don’t believe they’re worth the price, so tech is used to sell the dream in all its glory. Think 3D visualisation paired with high-quality sound effects of the Audi R8. Or seeing the latest season on the catwalk, not just a hanger,” Humphris says.

But it is in the cutthroat world of the supermarkets where the stakes are especially high. Not only are Britain’s big four losing market share to the German discounters Aldi and Lidl, companies such as Amazon are increasingly posing a threat too. The internet giant has recently launched a one-hour delivery service in London for everything from wine to nappies. And the service aims to go nationwide by the end of the year.

Sainsbury’s head of technology, Jon Rudoe, insists that two-thirds of Britons still jot down a shopping list before they go to the supermarket. So his firm’s next technology gambit, set to launch by the end of the summer, is an app to help you create that list on your mobile, wherever you are.

When you come to do your shopping in-store, the app guides you to your items, then lets you scan and pay for them directly from your phone, avoiding checkout queues altogether.

“Over time we’ll get more value out of the list creation because we’ll understand customers’ shopping history, and we’ll start helping shoppers create their lists,” Rudoe says.