Shopping cart prototypes track data, analyze purchases

A leading shopping-cart manufacturer's lab is creating new models equipped with data-gathering tools. When they hit the market in some form, they'll influence store design and consumer experiences.
Written by Reena Jana, Contributor on

Shopping carts have looked the same for decades. Sure, there have been some high-profile redesigns, such as IDEO's 1998 conceptual re-make of the classic cart or the bright-red, all-plastic version that Continuum created for Target, first unveiled in 2006. But the next generation of shopping carts promise not only to improve on ergonomics or materials, but also interactivity and customized shopping suggestions. All thanks to computers, GPS, and other digital devices embedded within them.

These ideas aren't merely design concepts, though--they are already prototypes at one of the top shopping cart manufacturers today, based on three years of research and development. Writing on Harvard Business Review online, Martin Lindstrom--author of  Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy (Crown, September 2011)--describes what he saw recently on a visit to a leading cart-maker's lab. Without naming names, Lindstrom reveals that in development are carts equipped with sensors and small computers to

  • reveal the speed of an individual shopper
  • calculate how long it takes for a shopper to make a selection
  • track a specific shopper's preferred route
  • understand the order in which a shopper places items in the cart
  • allow the shopper to swipe his or her loyalty card on the cart's handle to receive customized discounts--and reveal shopping data, of course, to build a profile

Lindstrom goes on to predict how these new, smarter carts will change the retail experience:

  • stores and store designers will be come more flexible, changing layouts and inventory based on ever-changing, ever-accurate consumer data
  • retailers will find a new revenue stream: selling customers' shopping information
  • advertisements based on shopping profiles built from cart data could be delivered via a consumer's mobile device

In the Harvard Business Review post, part of an HBR forum on The Future of Retail, Lindstrom doesn't address privacy issues that are likely to crop up if (and when) these new designs hit the market. The data-hungry carts could be perceived as a convenience by consumers as much as they will to retailers...or the scenario could provoke outcry over the use of customers' data. Either way, the impact and influence of intelligent carts are likely to be much greater than those of the eye-catching physical re-designs in recent decades.

Image: Jim/Wikimedia Commons

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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