May 29, 2007 3:57 PM PDT

HP strolls down shopping aisle of the future

HP strolls down shopping aisle of the future
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PALO ALTO, Calif.--Despite the digitization of nearly everything in our daily lives, the Sunday circular ad for beef and bags of baby carrots has remained. Hewlett-Packard is developing a technology to bring even the banal task of grocery shopping into the Digital Age.

At HP Labs here, researchers are developing an in-store kiosk solution called Retail Store Assistant (RSA) that will make shopping for food, clothes and electronics easier for buyers and make selling things easier for retailers.

This is the same lab that invented inkjet printing technology and pocket-size scientific calculators, and it wouldn't seem in-store kiosks are at the forefront of technology, which HP admits. But it's the combination of several areas of HP's core businesses that's new.

"The technology is available," said Mohamed Dekhil, manager of imaging and printing retail applications at HP Labs. "It's a question of how you connect all this together."

Credit: Erica Ogg/CNET
HP's Retail Store Assistant

The idea is this: Imagine walking into a grocery store, and instead of bringing your shopping list along, simply swiping a club card or entering a phone number. Any information you've entered online from home (milk, eggs, pretzels, ground beef, apples) will show up on your profile. There will also be special offers tailored to your shopping habits--your club card already keeps track of the fact that you prefer Diet Pepsi to Coke, and that you buy a carton of eggs every other week. The kiosk simply matches your information with retailers' offers to generate the appropriate coupons.

The RSA kiosk will then create a printed list of special discounts and shopping items. On the back will be a map of the store and the location of all items, eliminating the need to comb every aisle of a store. And instead of fumbling for coupon clippings, a single bar code on the printout will track the customized offers and remove items from the shopping list that were purchased.

If a printed piece of paper is too cumbersome, HP says the list and information could also be transferred via Bluetooth technology to a mobile device, like a phone.

While HP stressed that the intent of the technology is about making shopping "a delight" for customers, it's also a way for the company to sell more of what it's best at. The kiosk service combines HP database technology, servers, mobile products, printers and imaging technology.

The RSA kiosk could also be a boon for retailers and marketers. The kiosks can know by the time a shopper has left the store which discounts a buyer took advantage of. That information is gold for marketers looking for demographic data and ways to sell more accurately to individual buyers.

Though privacy advocates may balk at the idea of a retailer monitoring each shopper's purchases--indeed some already do decry the club card concept--HP says its customers will need to have privacy policies available to shoppers so they know what they're getting themselves into. Eventually the kiosks will let shoppers manage what personal data is kept, said Dekhil. For instance, shoppers can indicate that none of their alcohol or medicine purchases be tracked.

The technology isn't available yet, and likely won't be for some time, but HP says it is talking to major retailers, like supermarkets, electronics stores and discount chains about using the technology to make shopping an experience, one that eliminates the frustration of not being able to find a product or a helpful salesperson, and then build customer loyalty to that store. HP says it is currently "in talks" with major retailers to start pilot programs soon.

See more CNET content tagged:
kiosk, HP Labs, shopper, aisle, retailer


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online malls
This reminds me of all the online malls
that went up during the dot com boom.
The fact that high speed broadband did
not take off as fast as everyone had hoped,
spelled the end of an era. As far as I know,
the only site still on-line that does not require
the viewer to download any proprietary
software to view, is this old/dated mock-up.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by Randys2cents (81 comments )
Reply Link Flag
George Jetson Says
I just love the mentality of people that THINK they know what the consumer wants. Why don't the HP Labs people do something useful and invent a Rosie The Robot that goes shopping for me. Like, I REALLY want to hang around a kiosk printing up coupons. Who needs coupons? The store puts a sign in front of the Hagen Daaz that says $2.99 and I put it in my cart. The computerized cash register knows that it is on sale. End of story.

There are only two things I want from a a grocery store shopping "experience". High quality and low prices. Well, sometimes entertainment. I go to Whole Foods for that. Whole Foods has a bunch of expensive 37" monitors in the store that display pictures of corn in and endless loop. Great use of technology.
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Does it not take the fun out of shopping?
However big a store may be, there is still some fun walking down the aisles and discovering something new.
Posted by pjianwei (206 comments )
Reply Link Flag
agree, shopping can be fun
Not only does it take the fun out of shopping it tends to make people automatons.

Shopping is a experience in itself, not just the shopping part of it, but the
socializing that goes along with.. If people are so busy that they need
to key their orders into a kiosk, then they need to find another line of work
as the time saving is negligible (is kiosk ordering going to speed you through
the checkout line).

At a deli counter it may have its benefits, put in you deli order while you do
your other shopping. But I agree with poster, it?s kind of fun finding new
products while nosing around, not to mention watching other people shop.

I have been around computers for over 40 years, but there are some segments
of my life that a computer will not inject itself.

The world of technology is a wonderful and exciting area, but it?s a shame
that so many people no longer want to stop and smell the roses.
Posted by sandkicker (69 comments )
Link Flag
The future of shopping is a thing called smartstores
Smartstores is the future of retail.

Every item is identified with a RFID number, just like an IP number. Cyberspace and real space merge so that you can point and click at physical links to bring up more info in cyberspace from devices like cellphones.

Virtual help pops up when you want it.

The world is the Network.
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If it will save me $$ then I'll spend the time...
Despite have to have a card or some token that uniquely identifies you (big brother and the database) if it will save me money on items that I would normally buy anyway with having to waste the time strolling the store then I am for it.

On the other hand retailers are depending on you to stroll the store so that you will pick up items that you hadn't planned on. That is one reason that they change product locations periodically so that you will "stroll and browse". I am not too sure that retailers will embrace this to the extent that HP may hope.
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We have something like this locally already
At our local Acme, we scan our store card into a machine when we enter, and it provides a listing of items presumably of interest to us. If we purchase one, the discount is automatically calculated at checkout. It's an interesting idea, but it hasn't made shopping more fun. I thought it would. More info on it here:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by dough2 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Mom Won't Like It & Coupons Are Dead Anyway
Fact is 90% of grocery shopping is still done by women in the US and Canada. I suspect they'll stick with what's easiest: Pen and Paper. Add to that the other fact that less than 2% of product coupons get used and that the marketing use of coupons is declining. This must be the most ridiculous new technology out this year. It will be history in no time.
Posted by Webconomist (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Needs some more thought on the marketing
This sounds like a completely tech-driven concept dreamed up by engineers who have NOT studied consumer behavior. It will take a BIG perceived benefit over the discounts you get automatically from club cards. Alternatively, it will be difficult to communicate how having to log in and do a shopping list in advance online is a time saver vs. clipping coupons (for those who DO still bother with them).
Posted by DrFitz (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Better to develop a new benefit
The HP team should think about linking the provision of new info to the tech they're bringing together vs. just a new way of delvering temporary price discounts. How about product recall alerts (pet food anyone?), breaking news about brands purchased in the past, which brands in frequently purchased categories are rated best in customer-chosen aspects of corporate social responsibility, etc. Something that you can't get now AT THE POINT of purchase would provide a better incentive to put in the upfront work of registering and learning a new shopping behavioral pattern of interacting with the kiosks. This would also probably provide a stronger appeal to upscale early adopter types than getting a few cents off.
Posted by DrFitz (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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