The grocery shopping cart gets 'computerized'

January 21, 2008

by Mark Ollig

The Jan. 3, 1955 Life magazine cover pictured Norman Rockwell’s painting of a child sitting in a grocery shopping cart.

That reminds me . . . my mother’s weekly grocery shopping list is waiting for me.

The drive I take every Saturday morning has become routine over the last couple of years.

This past Saturday, I made my regularly-scheduled visit to the local grocery store with shopping list in hand.

After parking my car, I considered what to bring into the store.

I need the shopping list and my reading glasses – while my mother has excellent handwriting, her middle-aged son no longer has excellent vision.

Bringing the cell phone is always a good idea . . . just in case she needs something else while I am “uptown.”

As I walked inside the grocery store, I turned to my left and saw it silently waiting for me.

There it was . . . that dependable grocery shopping cart.

I had never given a great deal of thought about them before.

How much do we really know about those grocery carts anyway?

I learned the first grocery cart was invented June 4, 1937, by an American named Sylvan N. Goldman.

My news feed to “Microsoft Press Pass” sent me information about the future of the grocery shopping cart.

Four years ago, Microsoft Corporation acquired a company called MediaCart Holdings, located in Plano, Texas.

Since that time, they have been working on the next generation of shopping carts.

Today, Microsoft is providing the computing and database management software for MediaCart’s new computerized “media” grocery shopping carts.

These new “MediaCart” shopping carts may someday be rolling down an aisle near you.

The MediaCart’s console systems are to be tested later this summer in a chain of grocery stores owned by Wakefern Food Corporation. The grocery store chain is called ShopRite and is located on the East Coast.

MediaCart’s display monitor is similar to a laptop screen with a gray plastic-framed molding. It faces the customer and is attached on the front of the shopping cart.

The display monitor flips up when the cart is pulled from its recharging station.

The navigational control buttons are located within an oval-shaped blue plastic molding in the center of the handle bar.

What new technology could be added to a grocery cart that will make my shopping experience more pleasant?

For starters, I could have left mom’s shopping list at home.

Grocery customers will be able to log into the store’s web site and type in their shopping lists ahead of time. This list is saved for when the shopper arrives at the store.

A customer will “swipe” their personal shopping card through the console on the MediaCart. If there is no card, a personalized number can be entered using the navigational control buttons.

This identifies the customer and tracks their shopping history and preferences at the store.

The MediaCart system uses RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Devices) or “tags” in the shopping carts. This informs the store’s computer system of where the customer is and what products they select.

The use of RFID helps the store management track inventory and shopper’s buying habits.

MediaCart wirelessly communicates information back and forth with the store’s computer server.

Our saved shopping list can be accessed and displayed on the MediaCart video screen.

As we place each item into the shopping basket, MediaCart will check it off from our shopping list.

A running cost total of all items placed in the MediaCart will be displayed on the cart’s viewing screen.

As we push the MediaCart down the aisle, it will show us product information, specials, and price discounts on its display screen . . . all based on our location in the store.

A built-in barcode scanner, located in the handles navigation module, allows instant product price checks and comparisons in the aisle.

The MediaCart console will display the store specials, recipes and nutritional information for the products we pass by in each aisle.

The MediaCart includes a product locator program using speech recognition.

Say we are looking for the cereal aisle; we can just press a button on the cart’s handle and say the word, “cereal.”

We can also use the navigational buttons to type the first few letters of what we are looking for.

An interactive diagram will display our location inside the store with a reference to where the cereal is located in the aisle.

As we travel down the aisle and make our way towards the cereal, we may see the MediaCart screen notify us with an advertisement for 50 cents off on a particular brand of corn flakes.

And to think I was happy just picking out a shopping cart without the wheels going “squeak-squeak-squeak” as I pushed it.

To learn more and see a video presentation about this grocery shopping cart of the future, check out http://www.mediacart.com/.